When no major parties agreed to take him on as a presidential candidate in 2018, Jair Bolsonaro found a home in the tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL). To the disbelief of the political establishment, Mr. Bolsonaro won the presidency by a wide margin — and became 2018’s biggest kingmaker, paving the way for several of his little-known party colleagues to win their races for governor and Congress. The PSL went from being a small group with eight seats to the second-largest bench in the lower house.
His stellar electoral performance gave Mr. Bolsonaro the impression that the PSL needed him much more than the other way around. After unsuccessfully trying to sequester control over the party, the president unceremoniously abandoned the group, in a bitter separation that included mutual accusations of malfeasance between him and party founder and chairman Luciano Bivar.
Upon leaving, Mr. Bolsonaro announced that he would found his own political family, the Alliance for Brazil party. Despite the bold plan of being “not just a new party, but the greatest party in Brazilian history,” the Alliance was an utter flop.
And in a bizarre twist, a reconciliation between Mr. Bolsonaro and the PSL might now be on the table. He admitted the possibility during a live broadcast on social media, and PSL lawmakers confirmed the idea to The Brazilian Report as something that could be confirmed as early as next week. “It is hard to form a [new] party, but not impossible. The pandemic delayed it […] I can’t be 100-percent invested in the Alliance [for Brazil], I’ve got to look at other parties,” Mr. Bolsonaro told his followers.
It has indeed been a Herculean task for the president’s entourage. The arduous bureaucratic process of finalizing a party’s creation includes gathering the physical signatures of 500,000 voters from at least nine different states. The Alliance for Brazil has only managed to rustle up around 3 percent of the required total.
Conditions for reconciliation
Brazilian electoral law forbids independent candidates from running, but it’s not as if Mr. Bolsonaro has no options. He mentioned proposals from three parties — naming one of them, the right-wing Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), which is led by the notoriously corrupt former Congressman Roberto Jefferson.
That gives the president some leverage to negotiate the conditions for his return. The Brazilian Report confirmed that the list includes revoking the suspension of 12 lawmakers who sided with the Bolsonaro family during the acrimonious split last year, ending litigation within the party, and sharing power of executive positions among the PSL’s branches around the country. In return, the president would give up on creating its own party.
PSL founder Luciano Bivar told The Brazilian Report that he only agrees with one condition: pardoning the pro-Bolsonaro lawmakers. “We’re in talks,” he said, citing a return of the head of state to the PSL ranks only as a “possibility.” Mr. Bivar is set to meet with Mr. Bolsonaro next week.
The PSL is split between two fringes of the far-right — one more aligned with the Bolsonaros and another closer to São Paulo Governor João Doria, who belongs to the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). “Mr. Bolsonaro once told a supporter to ‘forget the PSL.’ Now he comes back begging for forgiveness. Do you realize who is the repentant traitor?” said Júnior Bozzella, head of the PSL in São Paulo.
Another major figure within the PSL who is looking to keep a safe distance from Mr. Bolsonaro is Senator Major Olímpio — a friend-turned-foe of the presidential clan. “I said it once and I’ll say it again: anyone with a shred of self-respect won’t take this guy back!” he told The Brazilian Report.
As we know, however, politicians easily leave self-respect aside under the right circumstances. With Mr. Bolsonaro posting the highest approval ratings he has ever had, it is difficult to imagine many political parties turning him down.[/restricted]