Civilian Centrão vs. Uniformed Centrão

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By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL*

Jair M. Bolsonaro's measures to drag himself out until the end of his term while maintaining impunity for himself and his offspring

Cornered by the health, social and economic crisis, placed on the defensive by the CPI, the Bolsonaro government is fighting for survival. The captain knows that the portion of voters who are completely loyal to him, those 25 to 30% that remain invulnerable to the impact of reality, is fundamental to any right-wing electoral project. This is your capital. But it seems increasingly unlikely to win the remaining votes that would lead to re-election. The “very difficult choice” speech will be, in 2022, even more embarrassing than it was in 2018. At the risk of being abandoned by allies or even of seeing his mandate shortened – crimes of responsibility for this abound –, Bolsonaro invests in two parallel strategies: it threatens to disrupt the electoral process and divides the government among Centrão politicians.

These are high-cost moves. The bravado against the elections increases the pressure for the famous institutions to finally act to impose limits on Bolsonaro. And the agreement with Centrão, as General Mourão recalled in another studied public statement, alienates once and for all that voter who believed that Bolsonaro represented a break with the “old policy”. The price to pay for survival is to increase the account for the immediate future.

Even because the modus operandi of the Centrão, especially in the face of weak governments, is that of looting, without any long-term commitment – ​​in what is reminiscent, by the way, of the economic policy of Paulo Guedes. An eloquent example: even handing over the Civil House to Ciro Nogueira, perhaps recreating the Ministry of Planning to return control of the Union's budget to the group, Bolsonaro may not be able to join the PP. The press reports resistance from many party chiefs, either because they don't want to see the president's clan dominating local directories, or because they want to be free to support another candidate in 2022, in some cases none other than former president Lula.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that the Bolsonaro government is already largely occupied by a group dedicated to parasitizing the State – the thousands of active and reserve officials who hold civilian positions and broker business, of which Pazuello was the most conspicuous symbol. and Braga Netto is the most active spokesman. This “United Centrão”, so to speak, supports Bolsonaro’s intentions against next year’s elections, for fear of, with a change of government, losing the prebends he enjoys today. It is not happy, therefore, to see the civil Centrão invading, with its typical grasshopper appetite, the multiple spaces it has conquered in recent years.

Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret – as several journalists did – the leak of the conversation between Braga Netto and Arthur Lira, in which the Minister of Defense announces his intention to prevent the elections from taking place, as part of this internal conflict (no pun intended). The general was forced to a denial, albeit a lame one, and the pressure is strong for it to at least be investigated. A call by Congress to provide clarification is very likely; it remains to be seen how much it will cost the government to avoid it. This is, in fact, one of the advantages of civilians in the ongoing dispute: they have a wide arsenal of measures that they can use according to the occasion, calibrating their impact. The military, on the other hand, only rely on the threat, which, when used in excess, tends to expose itself as mere braggadocio.

The position of the Bolsonaro government is uncomfortable. The worsening of the health and social crisis, managerial incompetence and political inability made him waste, in a short time, the advantageous situation in which he seemed to be at the beginning of the year, when he won wide victories in the elections for the tables of Congress and arrived a certain pacification, albeit tense, in the relationship with the Supreme. His “governability” formula, which in this case means dragging himself to the end of his term while maintaining impunity for himself and his offspring, requires both the civilian Centrão and the uniformed. But everything indicates that the coexistence between them is entering a moment of strong turbulence.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. Author, among other books, of The collapse of democracy in Brazil (Popular Expression).

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