Jair Bolsonaro is a presidential caricature

. May 18, 2019
bolsonaro president

When Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency, back in October 2018, everything was in his favor. The Workers’ Party—his ideological nemesis—was in shatters, as were most political groups, giving space for a conservative rise in Congress. Public opinion was shifting to favor a reform of the pension system and austerity measures that would help put the country’s finances back on track. It seemed that he would kick off his four-year term with the conditions to become a consequential president, with the opportunity few others had in the past.

Two days after the election, I spoke with several political scientists to predict the level of support the administration would have. They were all unanimous in saying that, given the conservative outlook of the new Congress, Mr. Bolsonaro could have up to 363 seats on his side of the aisle. That is, of course, if he abandoned his anti-system rhetoric and engaged in politics, negotiating with parties, not around them.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Traditional politics may have been left with a bloody nose after the recent election, but the party structures are still firmly in place inside Congress. “The entire dynamic of Congress depends on political parties: the forming of committees, the speed of procedures, when matters go to a vote … If he tries to negotiate with people one by one, it’s going to cost him dearly,” said Claudio Couto, political scientist and columnist at </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Almost five months into Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s term, we&#8217;ve seen him choose the path of confrontation, instead of negotiation. Congress has not missed an opportunity to put the government on the back foot, and has decided to run the country as if the presidency was vacant. Lawmakers proposed a tax reform this week without even consulting the Economy Ministry. And now plan to scrap the entire pension reform bill presented by the sitting administration, in favor of one equally potent, but entirely drafted by the House.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;The government has no strength whatsoever,&#8221; said the proposal&#8217;s rapporteur.</span></p> <h2>Conspiracy</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On Friday, the president shared a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">text</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> on several WhatsApp Messenger groups talking about the struggles of his administration, calling Brazil &#8220;ungovernable&#8221; without the &#8220;quid pro quo shenanigans&#8221; he refuses to engage in. The message said that Mr. Bolsonaro was being attacked for clashing with the interests of powerful corporations.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In political circles, the move was interpreted as a way to galvanize supporters, who are trying to organize an act in favor of the president for May 26. On social media, many of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s defenders talked about &#8220;standing up to Congress and the 11 crooked [Supreme Court] Justices.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Congressional leaders ordered lawmakers not to respond to the message, so as not to fuel the idea of a conspiracy to fustigate the government. The move, however, was interpreted as a declaration of war—and tensions should only grow higher from now on. As a result, the Brazilian Real crashed, and the São Paulo stock market fell to its lowest level since October.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These talks of a conspiracy have been present since the government took office. Mr. Bolsonaro has clashed with the military wing of his administration, despite Congress&#8217; multiple attempts to extend him an olive branch.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro was elected thanks to a violent rhetoric that catered to a population which had grown vindictive of a political class that has produced myriad scandals. But at no point did he choose to govern.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">His actions are reminiscent of those of former President Jânio Quadros, in 1961. Belittled by Congress after adopting a radical anti-system rhetoric, Mr. Quadros evoked &#8220;hidden forces&#8221; that didn&#8217;t let him govern. And in his wishes to incite supporters to protest in his favor, he is apeing another former head of state in 1992, when Fernando Collor asked people to show their support for him in the streets.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Neither was successful. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Quadros resigned after only 8 months in office, while Mr. Collor faced a series of protests asking for his impeachment—which ended up being voted by Congress in 1992.

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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