Bolsonaro goes after center-right opponents with one eye on 2022

. Aug 28, 2019
João Doria (L) and Speaker Rodrigo Maia João Doria (L) and Speaker Rodrigo Maia

Last week, President Jair Bolsonaro published a list of 134 subsidized loans granted by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) between 2009 and 2014 for the purchase of private Embraer jets. The move came as part of one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign promises, to open the BNDES’ “black box,” but it also served a more practical purpose for the president: attacking two potential rivals for the 2022 election. Among the beneficiaries of the subsidized loans

was São Paulo Governor João Doria, who took out a BRL 44 million loan with the bank by way of a property management company in his name. Another recipient of favorable financing conditions was TV presenter Luciano Huck, who received BRL 17.7 million through his company Brisair, to purchase an <a href="">Embraer</a> eight-seater aircraft.</p> <p>Both men are seen as potential presidential candidates for the 2022 elections, and Mr. Bolsonaro was quick to single them out for criticism. &#8220;If [Mr. Huck] bought a jet,&#8221; said the president, &#8220;he&#8217;s part of the chaos.&#8221;</p> <p>Messrs. Doria and Huck deny any irregularity in taking out the BNDES loans, stating that repayments were &#8220;transparent, fully paid, without delays,&#8221; while Mr. Doria blamed &#8220;opportunists&#8221; for trying to link the loan to any form of wrongdoing.</p> <h2>Ally turned enemy</h2> <p>In the 2018 election campaign, João Doria sought to attach himself to the image of Jair Bolsonaro, even branding an informal &#8220;<a href="">Bolsodoria</a>&#8221; slate on the ballot, urging the electorate to vote for João Doria as São Paulo governor, and Jair Bolsonaro as president.</p> <p>This, despite the fact that Mr. Doria&#8217;s Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) already had its own presidential candidate, the governor&#8217;s mentor-turned-rival Geraldo Alckmin, who ended up with only 4.76 percent of the vote.</p> <p>The perceived alliance with Mr. Bolsonaro was crucial for João Doria&#8217;s regional victory in São Paulo, but his approximation with the now-president was always seen as more of a relationship of convenience than any political convergence.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="ão-doria-bolsonaro-1024x683.jpg" alt="bolsodoria joão doria bolsonaro" class="wp-image-23076" srcset="ão-doria-bolsonaro-1024x683.jpg 1024w,ão-doria-bolsonaro-300x200.jpg 300w,ão-doria-bolsonaro-768x512.jpg 768w,ão-doria-bolsonaro-610x407.jpg 610w,ão-doria-bolsonaro.jpg 1920w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>#Bolsodoria was João Doria&#8217;s motto in 2018</figcaption></figure> <p>Now, eight months into the Bolsonaro government, Mr. Doria has placed himself as a future alternative to the far-right former Army captain. The two have butted heads over the president&#8217;s plans to <a href="">move the Brazilian Grand Prix</a> from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, and Mr. Doria has made it abundantly clear he intends to run for the top job in 2022.&nbsp;</p> <p>Luciano Huck is in a similar boat. The famous TV presenter was rumored to be <a href="">in the running for president last year</a>, but he withdrew from the race before it began. Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes had been courting Mr. Huck the previous year, and was set on joining his campaign were he to run.</p> <p>He is another potential name on the ballot in 2022, though he will certainly be involved in the election campaign in some form.</p> <h2>Consolidating the center-right</h2> <p>With precious little convergence on the Brazilian left, at this early stage it would appear that the main adversaries to Jair Bolsonaro in 2022 will come from the center and right-wing.</p> <p>A crucial element in this anti-Bolsonaro push is the coming together of João Doria and House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. Earlier this year, Mr. Doria was made the national chairman of his party. Rodrigo Maia, meanwhile, is from the center-right Democratas (DEM) party, which holds immense power in Congress, holding the leading offices in both the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as three cabinet ministers.</p> <p>In recent weeks, Messrs. Doria and Maia have been engaged in talks to merge the PSDB and DEM, as well as reaching out to outspoken outcasts from Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s Social Liberal Party (PSL).</p> <p><a href="">Former porn star and first-time representative Alexandre Frota</a> has already joined the PSDB after being expelled by the president&#8217;s party. On Tuesday, he began a social media campaign to oust Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p><a href="">Joice Hasselmann</a>, the PSL&#8217;s soon-to-be candidate for São Paulo mayor, has also flirted with joining PSDB, due to her proximity to João Doria.</p> <p>At this stage, the plan seems clear. Uniting PSDB, DEM, and other notable government figures would allow for the creation of a broad right-wing populist platform, maintaining the commitment to ultra-liberal economics shown by the current government, but without Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s radical, crass discourse.</p> <h2>Just one problem&#8230;</h2> <p>The glaring issue with this plan concerns how it would be able to earn enough votes to win an election. João Doria has projected himself as the presidential candidate, but he is a completely unknown figure outside of Brazil&#8217;s Southeast. Even in his home state of São Paulo, Mr. Doria struggled to overcome his fairly uninspiring opponent Márcio França in last year&#8217;s <a href="">gubernatorial race</a>.</p> <p>The other leading figure, rumored to be a potential running mate to Mr. Doria, is House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. With his lofty role in the lower house, Mr. Maia is undoubtedly one of the most popular politicians within Congress and one of the biggest power brokers in Brazilian politics today. However, his popularity ends as soon as he leaves parliament. In 2018, he was re-elected as representative for Rio de Janeiro after receiving only 75,000 votes—less than one percent of the total vote share.</p> <h2>Huck&#8217;ll Fix It</h2> <p>The obvious solution would be Luciano Huck. As the host of a popular Saturday daytime television show, he has built up a huge public image over the years as a charitable figure who &#8220;looks after the poor.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="576" src="" alt="Luciano Huck tv" class="wp-image-23080" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1600w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Luciano Huck</figcaption></figure> <p>His show consists mainly of what could only be described as poverty porn. He has weekly segments which involve inviting families on the bread line onto his show, before souping up their old cars and renovating their houses, evoking many tears and hugs. The format is a modern Brazilian version of Jimmy Saville&#8217;s &#8220;Jim&#8217;ll Fix It,&#8221; interspersed with interviews with A-list celebrities from Brazil and abroad.</p> <p>In recent years, however, Luciano Huck has began harboring political aspirations. He is a major financial backer of a pair of &#8220;<a href="">political renewal groups</a>,&#8221; which consist of providing education to aspiring young politicians and structuring their candidacies to public office. The organizations in question, <em>Renova</em> and <em>Agora!</em> managed to elect 17 of their alumni to Congress in 2018.</p> <p>While riding the wave of political renovation in Brazil, the groups backed by Luciano Huck have come in for some criticism. Center-left figure Ciro Gomes, defeated in the 2018 presidential elections, has branded them as &#8220;clandestine parties,&#8221; as they are able to skirt private-sector funding regulations.</p> <p>Indeed, while the graduates are forced to join conventional political parties in order to run for office, many have drawn attention for deviating from party lines and defending their own platform, representing these renovation organizations.</p> <p>Wielding this power of young, popular members of Congress, Luciano Huck is certainly a significant contender for 2022, with or without the support of João Doria and this impending right-wing populist coalition.</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro, in attempting to publicly smear their reputations, is all too aware of this.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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