Bolsonaro allies set to win control of Brazil’s Congress

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends the launch of the Mining and Development Program, at the headquarters of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, in Brasilia, Brazil

Candidates backed by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro are expected to win control of Congress next month, politicians and analysts said on Monday.

Bolsonaro is openly supporting Congressman Arthur Lira for speaker of the lower chamber against centrist Baleia Rossi, who has the backing of current Speaker Rodrigo Maia and lawmakers keeping their distance from the president.

Lira, who cast himself as fiscally conservative in a written exchange with Reuters, has more than the 257-vote majority needed, according to risk consultancy Arko. That means an uphill battle for Rossi and the left-wing parties he is courting, which favor more help for low-income Brazilians hurt by the pandemic.

With more than 8.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 209,000 deaths – second only to the United States – the second wave of Brazil’s outbreak is likely to raise pressure on the government to spend more, widening its huge budget deficit.

Hospitals in the jungle city of Manaus are overwhelmed again, prompting pot-banging protests in Brazil’s largest cities over the handling of the pandemic by Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly denied the gravity of the virus.

On the economic front, Ford Motor Co announced last week it was shutting production in Brazil and cutting about 5,000 jobs, in a symbolic blow for a country that likely suffered its worst recession on record in 2020.

Yet polls show Bolsonaro has retained public support in the crisis, with 37% of those polled calling him a “good” or “great” president in both August and December surveys by pollster Datafolha. That solid support, along with a growing willingness to discuss traditional horse-trading in Congress, have helped him secure a political base of lawmakers.

His favored candidate in the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco of the Democrats party, has a clear lead to become president of the Senate, by 46 senators to 33 for his rival Simone Tebet, according to Arko.

Pacheco even has the backing of the leftist Workers Party (PT) that see him opposing Bolsonaro’s more controversial views such as easing gun ownership rules and denying climate change.

“Pacheco is not an extreme free-market exponent and would not agree to the blanket privatization of state companies,” PT Senator Jean Paul Prates said in a telephone interview.

Lira has said his priority if elected speaker of the lower house on Feb. 1 was an emergency bill that would give the federal and local governments more room to handle spending but avoid then breaching Brazil’s legally mandated spending cap.

He told Reuters, however, that Congress had to find an alternative to extending last year’s emergency transfers to low-income Brazilians that cost 322 billion reais ($61 billion) and blew a record hole in the government’s finances.

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