Dead man walking: Congress isolates Bolsonaro

The clear displacement of power from the executive may be an attempt to remove the royal power from the President, transforming him into another Queen of England. This would be a less traumatic solution than an impeachment.

By Paulo José Cunha*

Two weeks ago the possibility of Jair Bolsonaro not finishing his mandate was treated as gossip in Brasilia, discretely, as if people were doubting their own speculation. From one minute to the next, however the subject has come out of the woodwork and shown its face. Nobody is hiding it anymore. No one is playing it off. The exit of captain Bolsonaro from his berth in the Presidential Palace – if not directly – has left the realm of possibility and is now being treated as a sure thing.

People are now talking about two details: the time frame and the way it will happen. In other words, in the opinion of the majority of analysts and observers of the political scenario, including lawmakers across the ideological spectrum – even conservatives who Bolsonaro supposedly represents – political scientists and journalists.

The government itself, which monitors the social media networks with a fine-toothed comb, has perceived an intensification of information circulation on this subject. Phrases such as “impeachment”, “coup”, “resignation”, “white parliamentarism” and others are running free and have converted into highly charged hash-tags. And they cannot be treated, as Bolsonaro has been insinuating, as a coordinated action by influential sectors within the three branches of government who are upset at the “new politics” delivered by his government. The “new politics” which is blocking back room deals and negotiation, without which as Paulo Portilho, author of a text which Bolsonaro endorsed, says Brazil is ungovernable.

The military is jumping ship

It is obvious that the abandonment of any government is a serious and delicate subject, because of the risks of institutional rupture that this can entail (although Brazil underwent two impeachments without greater trauma). It can cause dramatic and unpredictable consequences for a population that already faces hardships of every kind in its daily life and does not see any encouraging news on the horizon. The general perception of analysts is not that there is a consolidated wish for Bolsonaro to step down, but that the simple confirmation that there is a total lack of direction and any of coherent proposal, five months into his mandate, demands immediate and deep changes.

The dissatisfaction, which started off timidly, contaminated sectors that were previously considered impervious to any type of radicalization. This is the case of military leaders who no longer hide their discomfort with a government which was approved by them from the very start, but that until now has been unable to offer concrete solutions for the structural problems in the country. The signals that are coming from the barracks are that the military leadership is no longer willing to have its image tarnished through association with an erratic government which is diminished by its focus on peripheral actions aimed exclusively at promoting ideological intolerance and an agenda of conservative values.

Bolsonaro has not presented anything

Up to now, aside from Paulo Guedes pension reform proposal and Sergio Moro’s new security proposal, the Bolsonaro government has absolutely nothing to show in any other area. Nothing. In compensation, there are massive arguments underway within his own administration, between the President and the press, between the President and Congress, between the President’s sons and the Vice President, between the President’s Guru [the Virginia-based former astrologer Olavo de Carvalho] and the military, between the government’s leaders in Congress, between the guru and the Vice President, between the ministers, between… everyone.

It is such a strange situation that the other day, during a conversation between lawmakers from the PT, PSOL, PC do B and REDE and other left parties I could not resist and joked, “look, why don’t you guys go relax on the beach and let the opposition work?” There has never been so much friendly fire as in the current government. So who needs an opposition?

Among the lawmakers whose parties were disposed to support the new government, we can see a clear retreat. Turn on the Senate and Congress cable TV channels and look at the tone of the conversations. The enthusiasm – at times even exaggerated – that we saw at the beginning has been replaced with a support of convenience. We can see weak emphasis on defending the government only among the party leaders who are required to do so as job requirements. Most of the previous right-wing warriors are silent. Without support of an organized base, in record time Bolsonaro is already showing signs of isolation.

The Captain’s exit is already inspiring jokes

This is no wonder. The government has suffered successive defeats, some even coordinated by the members of its own so-called support base – if that really even exists anymore. This is what happened during the congressional commission’s rejection of the governmental structural reforms which took back control of the National Financial Activities Council (COAF) from the hands of Justice Minister Sergio Moro. If you cannot approve a strategic project like this, to cite one example, how do you plan on moving forward with anything?

The possibility of Bolsonaro leaving has already entered the world of anecdotes. A new smart-phone App runs a countdown to his leaving office. And the jokes are multiplying, like, “If you are taking the college entrance exams, study Bolsonaro because he is going to fall.”

This explains why the adoption of a “white parliamentarism”, a hegemonic posture the Legislature assumes in cases when there is clear weakness in the Executive branch, is already being openly coordinated in the halls of Congress. The negotiations have widened since the tax budget was approved in a process which drained significant power from Captain Bolsonaro. And the movement is is growing at a brisk pace, with leaders who until recently were trying to help support the governmental base now working to draft an alternative pension reform proposal together with tax reforms capable of delivering a concrete response to the challenges of growth.

The displacement of power from the executive is clear and, as some analysts are speculating, may be a disguised, concrete strategy to disconnect from Bolsonaro. It may be an attempt to remove the royal power from the President, transforming him into another Queen of England. This would be a less traumatic solution than an impeachment.

The people are on the streets

There has been no government in the recent history of the nation that has had to deal with gigantic street protests in its first five months like those which took place on May 15th against the public education funding cuts. And there are more on the way including strikes by police officers and truck drivers, which have already been announced. Nor has there ever been a government that has been so quickly sidelined by the nation’s main political forces, including those that initially supported it. The leaders of the House and Senate, facing a power vacuum and the government’s inability to lead the reforms that the country demands, now appear willing to bring Congress to the streets by adopting white parliamentarism, now being mentioned without quotation marks, and leave Bolsonaro sitting there.

* Paulo José Cunha is a journalist, writer and communications professor at Federal University of Brasilia. He is also a director and host of programs on TV Cámera, the Brazilian Congress’ television station.

This article originally appeared in Portuguese in Congresso em Foco with the title “Quem for fazer o ENEM estude Bolsonaro porque ele vai cair” (If you are taking the college entrance exams, study Bolsonaro because he is going to fall) and was translated by Brian Mier. 


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.