Candidates backed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won the country’s top congressional positions on Monday, significantly strengthening the populist leader’s position as he prepares for re-election next year.
Arthur Lira, a federal lawmaker from the Centrão bloc, was elected president of the lower house – a powerful position that controls the legislative agenda – while Rodrigo Pacheco won the presidency of the Senate in the biggest political upheaval since the election of Mr. Bolsonaro in 2018.
The results will strengthen the agenda of the right-wing president, whose populist instincts on issues such as gun control and environmental deregulation were largely blocked by Rodrigo Maia, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies.
In one interview Along with the Financial Times, Mr Lira pledged to back the Bolsonaro administration’s economic reform plans and maintain a cap on public spending, which has been at the heart of increasingly nervous investors in Brazil.
Aware that he is widely seen as under the sway of the Brazilian president, Lira, however, pledged to maintain the independence of Congress and promote legislation by consensus.
“In addition to preserving the independence of [Congress], the speaker should not have his own voting agenda. Who will decide on the projects that will go to the plenary will be the college of leaders. It is not a question of being for or against any subject, but of the posture expected of the Presidency of the House, ”said the new speaker, who will serve for two years.
Mr Lira’s victory is also likely to dampen discussions on the indictment of Mr. Bolsonaro – a prospect that has gained momentum in recent weeks amid growing indignation at the president’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past two weekends, convoys of demonstrators – some of whom were once sympathetic to Mr Bolsonaro – protested loudly in Brazil’s largest cities.
“If Lira is president [of the chamber], an impeachment process is very unlikely. But nothing is 100% certain because it depends on public pressure, ”said Major Olímpio, senator from the far-right group PSL and former ally of Mr. Bolsonaro.
The victories of Mr Lira and Mr Pacheco, however, will not give Mr Bolsonaro a free hand in Congress, and the Brazilian leader is likely to face increasingly heavy political haggling. before the federal election next year.
Mr Lira is a leader of the Centrão bloc, a group of 230 lawmakers known for political support in return for federal appointments or slices of the government budget.
Brazilian newspaper Estado de São Paulo reported that ahead of Monday’s congressional elections, the Bolsonaro administration freed hundreds of millions of dollars in budgets for 250 lawmakers to spend on public works in their districts.
Analysts have pointed out that the Centrão bloc is notoriously fickle and that the government will constantly have to allocate funds to satisfy its lawmakers – resources it currently cannot afford.
“Every vote in Congress will be a new negotiation. The Centrão is pragmatic and without ideological content. Its goal is to maintain power, ”said Carlos Mello, political scientist at Insper.
Former president Dilma Rousseff was dismissed in 2016 after losing the support of Eduardo Cunha, then president of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of the Centrão. Mr. Cunha was later sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for corruption in connection with Brazil’s expansion Car wash transplant investigation.
Mr Lira takes over the chamber presidency while also being investigated for corruption in the same long-standing investigation. He was also charged with assault and battery by his ex-wife – a claim he denies.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice