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Bolsonaro tries to create a coalition. Will he succeed?

. Apr 22, 2020
coalition bolsonaro Jair Bolsonaro tries to mend fences with Congress. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

Over the past week, President Jair Bolsonaro has ramped up his verbal attacks on House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. Speaking to CNN Brasil, Mr. Bolsonaro said the speaker is setting a “fiscal time bomb” to ruin the economy, destroy his administration, and oust him from the presidency. The crisis gained a new chapter on Sunday, when the president attended a quasi-putschist rally and claimed “there is no more room for negotiations” with Congress.

However, at the same time, President Bolsonaro is negotiating more than ever.

In a desperate attempt to gain some parliamentary support to block bills to which the government is opposed — as well as survive a potential impeachment process — Mr. Bolsonaro is in talks with small center-right parties and could be about to propose a major cabinet reshuffle. </p> <p>Last week, the lower house passed a plan to give Brazilian states no-strings-attached financial aid during the pandemic. Despite the government&#8217;s staunch opposition to the bill, it was <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/14/brazil-facing-crippling-debt-post-covid-19-world/">approved with an overwhelming majority</a>, showing just how ineffective his administration has been in whipping Congress votes. One Bolsonaro-supporting congressman told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong><strong><em> </em></strong>that government whips are often kept in the dark about the voting agenda for any given day. &#8220;We have to hunt for information ourselves,&#8221; he complained.</p> <h2>The need for a coalition</h2> <p>In negotiations, Mr. Bolsonaro has reportedly offered parties such as the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) — political groups with little ideological identity but sizable benches — the possibility of naming allies to second- and third-tier positions within the administration. There is even a plan in the offing to recreate the Labor Ministry and offer it to the center-right Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), led by the notoriously corrupt former congressman Roberto Jefferson, who was impeached and convicted for crimes committed while in office.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k-1024x683.jpg" alt="coalition congress" class="wp-image-36884" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k-1024x683.jpg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k-610x407.jpg 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/40020987473_ec22738864_k.jpg 2047w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>No coalition: Jair Bolsonaro has had a rocky relationship with Congress. Photo: Romério Cunha/VPR</figcaption></figure> <p>As a candidate, Mr. Bolsonaro constantly spoke out against these behind-the-scenes negotiations, claiming that political parties often occupy such positions in order to siphon public money to finance their own electoral campaigns.&nbsp;</p> <p>Elected partially thanks to his anti-establishment platform, the president now seeks to ally himself with forces he once disparagingly deemed as &#8220;old politics,&#8221; engaging in the horse-trading strategies he spent his entire campaign denouncing.</p> <p>Political scientist Marco Antonio Carvalho Teixeira warns that, though these negotiations are natural in most Brazilian administrations, President Bolsonaro will have to find a way to sell this <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/bruno-boghossian/2020/04/com-oferta-ao-centrao-bolsonaro-usa-cargos-para-expandir-poderes.shtml">U-turn in principles</a> to his electorate. &#8220;The effectiveness of such a strategy will depend on the size of the coalition. Mr. Bolsonaro took office while being close to the rural caucus, which would grant him the support of nearly half of the House — but we haven&#8217;t seen any positive results for the president,&#8221; says Mr. Teixeira.</p> <h2>History is not on Bolsonaro&#8217;s side</h2> <p>Back in April 2019, Mr. Bolsonaro already caved to &#8220;old politics&#8221; and tried to get closer to centrist parties, before he ended up publicly attacking them due to pressure from his electoral base, sabotaging the project. Political scientists consulted by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> say the same thing: presidents who demonize the political system usually do not manage to end their terms. The two most recent examples are former Presidents <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/06/squabbles-brazilian-1989/">Fernando Collor</a> and Dilma Rousseff, both removed from office by Congress.</p> <p>&#8220;In the case of Ms. Rousseff, even some of her former cabinet members voted in favor of impeachment. In a similar way, Mr. Bolsonaro is creating an environment in which congressmen simply feel like they cannot trust the president,&#8221; says political scientist Alberto Carlos Almeida. That is the case of one member of the Social Democratic Party who spoke with <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. He doubts his party will get into bed with the government, despite party leader Gilberto Kassab having met with the president a few weeks ago.</p> <p>Political scientist Carlos Melo argues that the current circumstances make it even more difficult for the president to set up any form of a parallel support base that is detached from Rodrigo Maia and co. at the head of the House and Senate. According to him, these parties have an excellent capacity for coordination and have formalized internal agreements in place since the beginning of the current legislature.</p> <p>&#8220;This type of coalition is based on the funds that can be released [to parties and members of Congress]. But we are at a time when the government has no money. Which ministry has money now? Even in the Health Ministry, which has received funding, everything is being directed towards combating the Covid-19 pandemic,&#8221; he explains.</p> <p>Erich Decat, a political analyst at brokerage firm XP Investimentos, recalls that the current agenda is focused on fighting Covid-19 and that lawmakers will only vote on topics related to the pandemic. &#8220;Any future vote in favor of the government will be circumstantial, and this movement will continue after the health crisis is overcome,&#8221; he says.

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Brenno Grillo

Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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