While Brazil’s far right president is under pressure it seems premature to suppose that his government will fall imminently.
[Juliano Fiori, Alborada contributing editor and Rio resident, offers his thoughts on news that Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro’s government is under serious pressure.]
Recorded on Monday 20 May, 2019
It’s the evening of Monday the 20th of May. This is Juliano Fiori in Rio with an update on Brazilian politics for Alborada. So there was talk over the weekend about Bolsonaro’s government perhaps coming apart at the seams. The main cause of speculation was an apparently anonymous message shared by Bolsonaro himself over WhatsApp on Friday. The message proposed that Brazil has become ungovernable, that the government has tried but failed, and that campaign promises can’t be met without the blessing of certain corporate interests. In an official statement Bolsonaro then suggested that his government faces innumerable challenges and that the way he proposes to govern isn’t pleasing to those groups who benefited from what he called not very Republican relations. He didn’t state which groups those were but it later emerged that the author of the message was a member of the Partido Novo, the New Party, essentially a party of the extreme right in shirts and ties.
So to give a bit of background to this, the government has made very little progress in pushing through certain reforms, in particular the pension reform. It’s also had an administrative reform blocked and one of Bolsonaro’s executive decrees on a gun carry law was challenged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The government’s also appeared divided since it came to power pretty much, with members of the ideological wing which includes Bolsonaro himself, his sons, and a number of ministers who see themselves engaged in a civilizational struggle against cultural Marxism, increasingly waging a Twitter war with generals who now occupy positions of power within government.
Bolsonaro’s eldest son is also being investigated for corruption and is suspected of involvement with paramilitary groups and these investigations are picking up momentum. And then the biggest public protests in years occurred last Wednesday in response to cuts to the budgets of federal universities. So there have been suggestions of possible impeachment that have emerged from what we might call the old right or establishment politicians and media outlets of the right. And there have also been calls for what is referred to here in Brazil as white parliamentarian ism. These calls have come mostly from parties of the so-called Centrão groups that are probably more defined by their corruption and mercenarism than their centre right or rightwing politics. So in this scenario of white parliamentarianism, members of Congress decide to follow their own parliamentary agenda, disconnecting from the government’s agenda or not being led by the government’s agenda, empowering the leaders of the House and Senate and in a way this is what’s already happening.
So by sharing a message admitting the failure of his government only five months in Bolsonaro has decided to up the stakes. He’s called his supporters to the streets for a protest on Sunday, that’s the 26th of May, and it’s clear who the targets are: that’s Congress and the Supreme Court. It’s also clear then what the threat is, even if he isn’t necessarily prepared to act on that. The threats is that if he’s not able to govern as he wants he will have to close Congress. And he wants to show popular support for this.
So this type of self coup was carried out by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in 1994 when he wasn’t able to pass certain neoliberal reforms. It’s worth bearing in mind that Bolsonaro’s Vice President, General Hamilton Mourão
said during the election campaign that a self coup would be justified under certain circumstances. But even if this were Bolsonaro’s intention, it’s not clear that he’d have the backing of the generals who occupy positions of his government now. And at the same time we should probably be careful about reading too much into the apparent divergence between Bolsonaro and Mourão. If the generals have a different style, if they have certain distinct interests to Bolsonaro and his ideologues, the government seems to be pretty united in its support for pension reform and its pension reform that primarily concerns capital, in particular the capitalization of pensions which would take them out of the public sector. So it seems probably premature to suppose that Bolsonaro will fall imminently.
Those who went to such efforts to make his election possible through manipulations and intrigue would probably be unlikely to give up on him so quickly if the opposition right now doesn’t seem to present a significant political threat. And even if it is the case now that others are probably better placed to drive through some of the reforms removing Bolsonaro would be quite risky for them. So apparent indecision, confusion incompetence and internal division now seem to take on the strategic role of their own and they’re creating difficulties for the development of opposition or left strategy. Nonetheless, another big demonstration against education cuts is being called for the 30th of May and it’s from the streets that the opposition will gain strength and coherence.