There is a popular saying in Brazil that “the year doesn’t start until after Carnival.” While this might be applicable to many people in the country, it’s not quite accurate when we are dealing with Congress. In Brazil’s Legislative branch, the year doesn’t start until the elections of the House Speaker and Senate President.

The latter is still in limbo, after a turbulent session which descended into seemingly endless bickering and grandstanding. The lower house, however, has picked its “new” leader, electing incumbent Rodrigo Maia for another two years.

Rodrigo Maia, of the right-wing Democratas party, swept to victory, winning an absolute majority in the lower house and triumphing in the first round. Of 513 total votes, Mr. Maia won 334, offering him a third term in charge of the lower house. Fábio Ramalho, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, came in second with 66 votes. Left-wing Marcelo Friexo won 50.

Rodrigo Maia’s corridor negotiations ensured him a support bloc of nearly a dozen parties, causing his opponents to make their final plea for votes with a tone of defeatism. What was previously a tightly disputed campaign became a foregone conclusion.

The House Speaker is anything but a decorative position. Due to the makeup of Brazil’s three branches of power, the leader of the lower house is one of the most powerful figures in the country’s politics. Continuing in his seat as Speaker, Rodrigo Maia has the responsibility to choose which bills go on the lower house docket, and when they go to a floor vote.

It is also up to the House Speaker to decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings against the sitting president. While this may seem like a rarely used power in most democracies, it is particularly relevant in Brazil. In the last 17 years, two presidents have been ousted by Congress.

What does this mean for the government?

The evaluation of the Bolsonaro administration is that the election of Mr. Maia represents neither a clear-cut defeat nor an undoubted victory.

Rodrigo Maia’s election is a divisive issue for the government. On one hand, the administration sought to distance itself from Mr. Maia, seen as a representative of “old politics” and tied up in the corrupt legacies of Rio de Janeiro lawmakers who came before him. He is also targeted by two Federal Police inquiries involving evidence of passive corruption and money laundering.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo Maia has declared he is committed to approving the pension system reform, which is the absolute number one priority for the government in the first half of the year. Furthermore, his negotiations with parties have allowed Jair Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party to take control of the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ), the single most important permanent committee in the House and through which every bill must pass. The vast support for Mr. Maia’s election gives the government hope of gathering enough votes to approve their reform bill.

The matter of votes is crucial with Rodrigo Maia at the head of the lower house. A cautious and calculated operator, Mr. Maia can be seen as stubborn by some due to his insistence on having iron-clad guarantees of absolute majorities before putting any bill on the docket. While Mr. Maia has pledged to promote the pension reform, the votes he received in Friday’s election do not automatically translate into votes for the Bolsonaro administration—the government will have to work hard to whip up support.

Another point working in the government’s favor is the way in which Rodrigo Maia was able to whip up such significant support in the lower house, dishing out promises for seats on permanent committees and creating an atmosphere of consensus. The government’s main fear in the House Speaker election was that it would create a divided chamber and an environment inconducive to approving bills.

For the meantime, the mood in the lower house is calm, setting the perfect stage for the government to take its much-desired reform of the pension system and push it through the House before the second half of 2019.

Read the full story NOW!

PowerFeb 02, 2019

Tags: - -

BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.