the trap

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

The dangers that threaten the government of President Lula

This article intends to describe the set of difficulties, better said, dangers, that threaten President Lula's government. The intricate framework in which the new government operates will have, as a more negative result, the possible repetition of coup attempts, especially the type of coup today most common in shaken democracies, the parliamentary one, with the removal of the president by impeachment, as occurred with President Dilma Roussef. But the most likely risk is in the presidential succession, in 2026. A failure, real or manufactured by the media in the mainstream press and social networks, could lead to the election of an avatar of the madman, who should become ineligible if justice fulfills its role.

As the dangers are many, the article will unfold in a series, to make the reading more palatable, although indigestible. In the last text, I intend to point out some possible ways to guarantee the survival of our democracy and avoid another four years of destruction of the environment, social relations, economy and institutions, starting in 2026.

Relations with the National Congress

The 2022 elections left a bitter result for Brazilians, despite the relief with the defeat of the energetic, and the coup movement that resulted in the attack on democracy on January 8.

Lula won by a slim margin. The electoral victory was fundamental to ward off the greater danger of Bolsonaro remaining in power, but the price paid was enormous. On the one hand, Lula needed the support of sectors that, in the past, were firmly at the forefront of all attempts to remove a left-wing government. The mainstream press was as decisive in overthrowing Dilma as it was now in electing Lula. Politicians, businessmen and personalities committed to the impeachment helped to discard the madman. If it depended only on progressive forces, Lula would have lost the elections. On the other hand, the vote for Congress and for the state governments did not follow the vote for Lula for president. The right has grown significantly, whether in its more physiological expression (voting for the centrão), or in its more ideological expression (voting for Bolsonarist candidates).

The explanation for this vote, apparently schizophrenic, can be found in several factors: the most important was the electoral power of the so-called secret budget, followed by the power of social networks, the evangelical vote and the outpouring of benefits from the government with effects on the base. poorest part of the population. At the cost of hundreds of billions of reais that sent to space the so valued (by businessmen and conservative economists) spending ceiling, the vote of the poorest, despite helping to elect Lula, also guaranteed a significant margin for right-wing candidates to Congress. Even the vote for Lula in this category was lower than expected.

The result of these elections was the formation of the most right-wing congress in Brazil, probably since the slaveholders lost their majority at the end of the Empire.

The progressive bench, and even this qualifier has to be taken with a pinch of salt, is largely a minority and the right, whether the physiological center or the Bolsonarist base, has great firepower. The first effect of this result was the maintenance of the Presidency of the Chamber in the hands of Artur Lira, the chief who controlled the secret budget. Lula understood that he didn't have a bullet in the needle to fight this sinister character and made a pact with the devil. It was the price for approving the PEC on social spending for the 2023 budget. This decision was taken by Congress at the end of the year and Lira is even more empowered with the composition of the one who took office this year. Lira entered heavily into the definition of new powers in the Chamber, placing a majority of his peers in the Board of Directors and in permanent Commissions, such as the CCJ. He has all the cards in his hand and doesn't even need “cards up his sleeve” to manipulate each vote. The government will suffer in his hand.

Lula's bet was to build a parliamentary support base, attracting right-wing parties to govern with him. MDB, União Brasil, PSD and other minor acronyms received ministries and large state organizations, such as CODEVASF. Now Lira and her partners intend to maintain FUNASA, one of the instruments used in the secret budget to distribute benefits among deputies and senators. The allotment of positions is blocked by the resistance of the PT and Lula in handing over important positions. But Lira has already given a checkmate and threatened not to approve expensive proposals to the government. After an “intimate” conversation, Lula apparently relented.

The lottery price is expensive. Untrustworthy ministers and leaders are in important positions and show an independence that slips into treason, appointing or keeping notorious Bolsonaristas. The PT's vetoes are focusing on the rejection of lavajatistas and coup plotters who were involved in the overthrow of Dilma, but Bolsonaristas without this blemish are abounding in the government. This choice of enemies seems to me more tainted with resentment than political evaluation. Is a convinced or repentant lavajatista a greater or lesser threat than a closeted or assumed Bolsonarista in the government? It's a losing fight for the left and concessions keep coming.

Handing over ministries to the physiological right comes at a price in terms of how government works. What to expect from ministers from this odd base of the current government? Very important issues such as changing the transport matrix, currently centered on trucks, to adopt an intermodal system that is more rational and economical and less dependent on roadways, will remain in the drawer. For the minister in office, it is more important to invest in roads, which facilitates manipulation of tenders and access to bribes. 

The other price to pay is in the government's image. Those nominated by the Lira block are being pointed out as corrupt and prevaricators by the press, but their parties simply charged Lula with their maintenance and he had to swallow. For public opinion, these concessions are not acceptable and the government's image is being contaminated with the impression that we have more of the same, corruption, nepotism and greed. And it doesn't help that elements of the left have also joined in, with lobbies to get family members into public office.

All these concessions, however, are not enough to secure the parliamentary base. This happens because the parties of the right, centrão and others, do not have any internal coherence. As the basis of the agreements is given by individual advantages for parliamentarians and not by party programmatic convergence, each deputy who does not feel contemplated in the sharing positions himself as “independent”, until he is satisfied with some benefit. I have no doubt that the secret budget will reappear, in a less brutal way than in the past, allowing for an increase in the purchase of deputies and senators. The side effect is the erosion of executive control over budget proposition and execution, limiting government resources for its social and economic programs.

In his first government, Lula had to buy votes at retail to gain space in Congress. In Dilma's government, the purchase was wholesale, handing over important positions to gain the support of physiological parties. Now Congress has learned that it has the strength to manipulate the budget according to its minor interests and proposes to blackmail the government in every vote, with or without an agreement with the leaders of the fragile government base.

Lula's bet is to achieve great achievements despite all these concessions to physiologism. It is a kind of toll to be able to govern for the people. If it works, public opinion will ignore or minimize the inevitable scandals of corruption and misuse of public resources and re-elect him in 2026. This prediction of a new Lula candidacy may be strange, but I don't think there is an electoral solution without him . Even a successful government would find it difficult to promote a successor capable of capitalizing on a good result, repeating Dilma's victory, a less attractive picture than Haddad, for example, but who lacks the minimum charisma to confront the empowered right. If the results of the Lula government are less than spectacular, even Lula himself would struggle to get re-elected. And remember, Lula is not a boy and the pressure will be insane. But let's leave these speculations for the future.

In short, Lula depends on a hostile congress to pass essential laws to get his government off the ground. More than knocking down the spending ceiling, and this will not pass easily in Congress, the key proposal is tax reform. And Lira is already showing her claws, trying to put a minimal proposal to the vote that does not change the regressive fiscal framework that characterizes the current situation. The outcry against a possible increase in taxes for the richest, charging profits and dividends, among other measures, will be enormous. It would already be difficult with a progressive congress due to the artillery of the media and the business community, in particular the financial sector. With this congress…the fight will be fierce.

(continued in next article)

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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