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Impeachment talks gain steam in Brasília as Bolsonaro loses support

. Jan 20, 2021
impeachment talks bolsonaro President Jair Bolsonaro during a government event. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Despite Brazil being one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus — with over 8.5 million confirmed cases and 211,000 deaths — Jair Bolsonaro saw his approval ratings hit their highest level in the second half of 2020. As we explained on The Brazilian Report, this was thanks to the coronavirus emergency aid program, the biggest cash-transfer initiative in the country’s history, reaching 67 million people and driving poverty rates to their lowest levels in at least 16 years.

However, without the money to continue paying the emergency aid benefits and amid the healthcare collapse in the Amazon — laying bare the consequences of a lack of national coordination to fight the coronavirus — President Bolsonaro has seen his popularity take a tumble.

</p> <p>This trend began tentatively in September, when the government was forced to half monthly payments of coronavirus benefits, before scrapping the program completely in December. The shift became even more intense with the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2021/01/19/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-manaus-coronavirus-variant/">dramatic scenes in Manaus</a> last week, where Covid-19 patients died from suffocation due to a shortage of oxygen tanks.</p> <p>Now, one week on, talks of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s impeachment are once again brewing in the corridors of Brasília.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/4660184"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>In fact, the topic of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s impeachment has never been so widely discussed on social media in Brazil. Since the president began his term on January 1, 2019, some 54,000 posts have been made on Facebook including the words &#8220;impeachment&#8221; and &#8220;Bolsonaro,&#8221; on Friday, consultancy firm Bites measures a total of 2.1 million interactions on posts of this nature — a new daily record.</p> <p>Indeed, many of the accounts who touched on the subject of impeachment belong to politicians, legal scholars, representatives of a wide range of organizations, and celebrities. Among those figuratively calling for the president&#8217;s head are protest movements Vem Pra Rua and Movimento Brasil Livre, which led demonstrations in favor of the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. They have organized anti-Bolsonaro protests, such as a <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/15/as-manaus-collapses-brazilians-take-part-in-pot-banging-protests/">pot-banging demonstration</a> last Friday evening.</p> <h2>The ins and outs of a political trial</h2> <p>Amid the renewed pressure for President Bolsonaro&#8217;s removal, a <a href="https://twitter.com/sos_impeachment/status/1351833190193885186">Twitter profile</a> monitoring the opinions of members of Congress on social media indicates that 110 lower house representatives are in favor of impeachment (out of 513) and 55 are against. The count was updated on Wednesday morning.</p> <p>Former presidential candidate Fernando Haddad — beaten by Mr. Bolsonaro in the 2018 runoff vote — has promoted the idea of impeachment on his social media accounts. &#8220;We need to open up the count of impeachment with the names of all the federal representatives and begin putting pressure on each one of them, by all possible methods. Without this, [Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s] removal will never happen,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>In order for an impeachment case to be approved by Brazil&#8217;s lower house, a total of 342 votes are required.</p> <p>However, for this to occur, the House Speaker must first accept an impeachment request and put it to a vote. Despite being a vocal critic of President Bolsonaro, incumbent Speaker Rodrigo Maia has always been reticent to open impeachment proceedings. In fact, there are a total of 55 requests to remove Mr. Bolsonaro currently sitting on Mr. Maia&#8217;s desk, awaiting analysis.</p> <p>With pressure rising on social media and behind the scenes, Rodrigo Maia has changed his tune, saying that a discussion on the possibility of impeachment is &#8220;inevitable.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I think it is inevitable that this issue will be discussed by the House in the future. We have to focus on the principal matter at hand, which is saving as many lives as possible, even with the knowledge that there has been a lack of organization and leadership on behalf of the Health Ministry,&#8221; said Mr. Maia.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3236266"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Impeachment proposal would require thorough negotiations</h2> <p>In the view of federal politicians, there is not yet a majority in Congress to push through the impeachment of President Bolsonaro. As things stand, he retains the support of the so-called &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; a loose coalition of rent-seeking parties representing a total of around 200 seats. To avoid any risk of impeachment, the president requires at least 172 votes on his side.</p> <p>However, if the pandemic issue continues to increase the pressure on a potential impeachment, the political outlook may change. A key turning point will be the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/12/07/battle-lines-drawn-for-crucial-2021-house-congress-election/">congressional leadership elections</a> on February 1 — the new House Speaker will have the right to decide whether to open or dismiss all impeachment requests against the president. The leading opposition candidate, Baleia Rossi, has not committed himself to accepting an impeachment request.</p> <p>Members of Congress also point out that all forms of negotiation have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, as the Legislative branch is currently working remotely.</p> <p>One alternative to kick off a potential impeachment process would be setting up a Parliamentary Hearings Committee (CPI) to investigate the government&#8217;s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. &#8220;But the lack of in-person sessions in the House makes it hard to gather the signatures necessary [to open a CPI],&#8221; says congressman Orlando Silva, the author of one request to launch a hearings committee.</p> <p>The possibility of impeachment would only become real if Mr. Bolsonaro loses the support of the Big Center. While this is hardly imminent, whips of Big Center parties have told<strong> The Brazilian Report </strong>that an ouster would be a &#8220;possibility,&#8221; due to the government&#8217;s failure in bringing coronavirus vaccines from India. &#8220;Mainly because of the next elections [in 2022], because no-one will want their image associated with a government that did nothing to save the lives of Brazilians,&#8221; said one party whip, who requested to remain anonymous due to identifying as an ally of President Bolsonaro.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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