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BRAZIL: Pragmatism threatened by Petrobras turmoil, but quickly restored

Table of Contents

  • President Jair Bolsonaro will talk the talk on ideological platforms but reelection in 2022 calls for pragmatism.
  • There is increasingly little room for far-right policymaking.
  • Stress with the arrest of a Bolsonarista congressman shows the limits of Bolsonaro’s capacity to “be himself”.

President Jair Bolsonaro was elected on a platform that combined conservative values, liberal economics, and contrarian politics. He has maintained his values, fudged on his economics and abandoned his politics. His alignment with the Big Center and the election of pro-government leaders in Congress sealed his anti-old-politics discourse and paved the way for a “pacification” of the economic agenda. As to his values, Bolsonaro continues to insist but a new situation this week demonstrates how ideology and militancy will be dealt with in the second half of his mandate in order to avoid complications with other branches of government. The president may be pushing in this direction for his own personal reasons, but the movement is good news for the economic agenda as stridency and risk tend to decrease accordingly.

Ideological agenda

The president has since his inauguration maintained an incendiary discourse to please his core far-right support group – but to a significantly lesser degree as time passes. From joining anti-democratic protests without a mask in the middle of the pandemic to bad-mouthing Congress and the Supreme Court (STF), Bolsonaro has catered to his militant base to secure the 15-20% of support that should suffice to get him to the runoff elections in 2022. He no longer bad-mouths legislators or judges to prevent Supreme Justices from accepting charges against himself or his offspring, and Congress from moving towards an impeachment on the basis of such charges. There is little room now for the president to fight for far-right promises, with the exception of religious and family matters where he can rely either on the evangelical caucus in Congress or on his relatively popular Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Dalmares Alves. The pushback he has had on four decrees intended to facilitate access to firearms this week show the limits of his ideological agenda as a driver of policy for the remainder of his mandate.

New stress

A Bolsonarista house representative, Daniel Silveira from the president’s former social liberal party (PSL), was arrested this week pursuant to an order from Supreme Justice Alexandre de Moraes, the rapporteur in the STF of two cases involving the parliamentarian before the court: anti-democratic acts and fake news. Silveira has been an avid attacker of STF Justices, calling for their replacement and the adoption of violent measures against them on social media. A new video published on 16 February was the last straw for the Court which confirmed his arrest at the plenary the following day. By intensifying his verbal assaults, Silveira put a lot of stress on the sensitive balance Bolsonaro has been trying to achieve. The president certainly “did not need” any skirmishes between one of his own and the STF. Congress, who normally defends its own against other branches of government, has also shown not to prefer to have to confront the court at a time when it is so close to downgrading the importance of the iconic anti-corruption Car Wash operation. Congress will certainly not want to be put in a position to have to defend a Bolsonarista if it can avoid it.

Ideology man no troppo

Head prosecutor Augusto Aras, an undeniable ally of the president, came to rescue once again. His office brought charges against Silveira and thus could kill two imbroglios with one stone: (1) it would ensure that the case remains in the STF where prosecutorial charges of politicians should remain; and (2) it would give Congress the excuse it needs to “respect the constitution” and not have to defend a small-fry politician from the wrath of the country’s top court. This is the new normal. Bolsonaro may still pay lip service to his campaign promises but when push comes to shove, he will hide behind his carefully constructed electoral pragmatism and stay away from any ideology that may adversely affect it.

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BRAZIL: Pragmatism threatened by Petrobras turmoil, but quickly restored

President Jair Bolsonaro will talk the talk on ideological platforms but reelection in 2022 calls for pragmatism. There is increasingly little room for far-right