NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2019 REPORT


The President’s new conservative political party


President Jair Bolsonaro officially left the Social Liberal Party (PSL) in November. He had joined the PSL in early 2018 with the chief goals of getting a ticket to run for president and galvanizing a coalition of social conservatives with economic liberals. Less than two years later, the president and his close allies are creating a new conservative party to be called the Alliance for Brazil (Aliança pelo Brasil). It is a risky decision since the new party might not have access to public financing for the party and electoral activities as well as mandated radio and television time during the next campaign season. The new party must obtain its formal registration by March 2020 in order to legally nominate candidates for the 2020 municipal elections next September. The Alliance for Brazil will face a number of hurdles before securing its official registration, including the collection of 500,000 affiliation cards from citizens from different Brazilian states. The Supreme Electoral Court might also be used by the president’s political foes to frustrate his political plans. Recently, a federal court in Brasilia suspended the PSL executive board decision to expel a number of federal deputies who have pledged loyalty to President Bolsonaro and his new party. The PSL will appeal the decision and take legal action to seize those PSL seats in the Chamber of Deputies currently held by the Bolsonaro loyalists who plan to join the Alliance for Brazil. The new party is expected to launch a legal battle to secure the public monies and broadcast time currently allotted to those PSL deputies who join it. Currently, the PSL is the second-largest party in the lower chamber, but approximately half of its delegation plans to follow the president to the Alliance for Brazil.


With Lula free on appeal, the Workers Party prepares for 2020


Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was released from his jail cell in Curitiba after the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to imprison convicted suspects until all their appeals are exhausted, a provision that is explicitly included in the Constitution. Lula is the founder of the Workers Party (PT), the largest opposition party in the country and in the Chamber of Deputies. He is also the party’s chief political leader and his political clout is expected to be a key element for the left in the upcoming 2020 municipal elections. A clear sign of his influence within the party was the victory by an overwhelming majority at the recent PT 7th National Congress of Federal Deputy Gleisi Hoffman, for a second term as president of the party. The general picture for the left and center-left opposition to Bolsonaro is less than clear, however. Lula is currently working to select and promote the PT’s own municipal candidates while important PT leaders in the Northeast region, notably Senator Jacques Wagner and Governor Rui Costa of Bahia, have defended a strategy of alliances with center-left parties and their candidates. Lula and the PT face a singular challenge of reaffirming the party’s prominence in next year’s municipal elections, either through a go-it-alone campaign or by participating in electoral coalitions that maximize the party’s influence in municipal administrations and legislative arenas around the country by sharing power with other political forces.


Guedes’ Economic Agenda Advances


Since the approval of the pension reform, the National Congress has signaled its interest in following the liberal economic reforms proposed by Economics Minister Paulo Guedes. The constitutional amendment to reform the pension systems of state and municipal governments was approved by the Senate and now awaits floor votes in the Chamber of Deputies. The reform could raise federal government expenditures, such as the proposed measure to recalculate benefits for women. The president of Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia (DEM), indicated his opposition to these changes and may work to block them. Two other constitutional amendments were passed in the lower chamber and are now under consideration in the Senate. The first one changes the regulatory framework for sanitation to open up the sector to greater private investment. The second, called the emergency constitutional amendment, mandates measures such as the reduction in public employees’ compensations, that would have to be adopted by state governments requiring federal government assistance in times of fiscal duress. Debates and deliberations over these constitutional amendments as well as over controversial policy issues such as privatizations, administrative reforms, and the looming tax reform will certainly occupy most of the congressional agenda in 2020.


Military Prestige, Contested Negotiations with Moro


The Brazilian Congress passed the bill of the military pension reform which restructures career tracks and redistributes benefits. While the reform increases the contributions of officers it also raises overall compensations and benefits to those in the top military ranks. Low ranking military officials did not receive well the plan and allied themselves with the opposition in order to fight it in the Chamber of Deputies. However, this was not enough to stop the passing of the bill in both houses, the Chamber and the Senate. It should be noted that while the top-ranking military will benefit from Bolsonaro’s reform, his government’s fiscal adjustment and austerity agenda sacrifices nearly all segments of the civilian population.


A named version of Sergio Moro’s anti-crime package was approved in Congress. Provisions such as the ones mandating imprisonment after the initial appeal following conviction, amnesty for those who can prove legitimate self-defense, and the adoption of plea bargaining were rejected. The final bill still conveys the general project of getting tough on crime, lengthening sentences for convicted criminals and facilitating greater cooperation and the exchange of information between law enforcement agencies of all levels of government.

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