Bolsonaro's fate

Image: Cyrus Saurius


The main agenda of the 2022 elections will no longer be the “fight against corruption” but unemployment

The second round of municipal elections confirmed the main trends of the first round: the strengthening of traditional conservatism (Centrão and DEM) and the weakening in large cities of the two forces that polarized the second round of the presidential election in 2018, Bolsonarismo and Lulismo. The dismal performance of the center-right (PSDB and MDB) and center-left (PSB and PDT) in the first round was mitigated in the second by the victory of Bruno Covas (São Paulo), João Campos (Recife) and José Sarto (Fortaleza ) in the main regional strongholds of the PSDB, PSB and PDT, and the MDB in Porto Alegre and other capitals. What do these results teach about 2018 and hint about 2022?

First and foremost, Bolsonaro has simply lost hegemony over the country's political agenda. “Anti-politics” is no longer the safest criterion for electoral victory and, thus, Bolsonaro does not have the immense political resources to indicate victorious allies of the “new politics” as he had done with Wilson Witzel and Romeu Zema.

This is an event that cannot be underestimated, as it indicates that the main agenda of the 2022 elections will no longer be the “fight against corruption” but, as I will defend, unemployment. This makes Bolsonaro especially vulnerable in 2022.

It is not the first time in history. To go down in Brazilian history, Jânio Quadros and Fernando Collor were also “news” elected with the “anti-political” promise of sweeping away corruption that did not last long in part because they adhered to the austerity agenda and, in the second case, also involved in the transactions he had sworn to clean up.

The rupture with Sérgio Moro’s car wash and Flávio Bolsonaro’s and Queiroz’s split smothered Jair’s saintly aura and led him to seek protection in the least “anti-political” blocs in Congress. Investigations at the Public Ministry and at the Federal Supreme Court, and the “protective” alliance with Centrão itself should continue to undermine Bolsonaro’s vigilante aura until 2022. Control of the “anti-political” agenda was lost without return.

Thus, the “fight against corruption” no longer seems to be able to resolve elections along with the conservative moral agenda, even though they remain very influential in limiting the PT's growth in majoritarian elections. The defeat of former mayor and PT João Coser (PT) against Delegado Pazolini (Republicans) in Vitória seems to indicate this limit. Delegado Federal Eguchi (Patriotas em Belém) and Capitão Wagner (Pros em Fortaleza) were unable to repeat the moralistic mystique of 2018.

Emergency assistance and the Centrão

The second lesson of 2020 is that federal government spending is an enormous political resource given the vulnerability of the poorest population, particularly in a context of high unemployment. During the most critical period of the pandemic, the income of 67,2 million people, many earning R$1200, was supported by a program whose cost until the first round reached around R$300 billion, or almost 4,2% of GDP estimated for 2020. About 15 million people escaped poverty, or 23% of the total poor, a historic record.
It seems clear to me that Bolsonaro's base parties took advantage of the prestige of emergency aid in campaigns. In exchange for protection against impeachment, Centrão electorally capitalized on this resource even better than Bolsonarist parties, which also grew in votes, city halls and councilors in smaller cities and rural areas of the country.

This may help explain the PT's new defeat in terms of number of mayoral elections (-29%), even though the party's total vote rose slightly (1,88%) and, what is even more significant, it was the highest among all parties in cities with more than 500 inhabitants. Already in the so-called “grotões”, Lulismo and Bolsa Família seem to have been circumstantially replaced in the popular imagination by the supposed father of emergency aid and his allies.

Centrão also used the new alliance with the federal government to move the most traditional of vote production machines: federal resources via ministries and parliamentary amendments intermediated by mayors and their networks of mediators to finance public works and services. It is this machine that Centrão mobilizes to take mayoralties from the MDB and PSDB, exploring the logic of making deputies to make mayors to make deputies... should increase the size of the parliamentary block in 2021.

Bolsonaro knows this. He is now hostage to the Centrão to protect himself from impeachment and to compensate for the loss of prestige in the big cities with the political capillarity in the interior of the country. As I wrote two weeks ago, if the tense alliance built in 2020 between Bolsonarismo and Centrão consolidates, Bolsonaro will have in 2022 what he did not have in 2018: political capillarity in the municipalities, a powerful machine for producing votes that complements the continuous influence of his mass disinformation social networks.

One should not rule out the possibility that Bolsonaro abandons his intention to create and lead a party, the Alliance for Brazil, and decides to join a Centrão party. This depends, of course, on him and his children convincing themselves of their own organizational incompetence and transferring political articulation to professionals.

Bolsonaro's entry into Centrão is facilitated by ideological proximity. It should not be forgotten that its historical origin is the bloc formed to mitigate the social and nationalist clauses of the Constituent Assembly in 1987, and which was later central to “reforming” the 1988 Constitution to cut social rights and shield business interests.

Centrão should not be understood as a group of political clientelism professionals who sell votes for federal resources regardless of the executive's agenda. I can't imagine the Centrão voting en masse to radically raise the taxation of the richest assets, as easily as it could vote for administrative reform and a deepening of labor law, that is, on reforms that harm workers in the public and private sectors. Political dynasties also have business interests and ideological sympathies with aspects of the neoliberal agenda. It is not a “center” group, but an auxiliary line of neoliberalism.

The Spending Ceiling Law and the fate of Bolsonaro

Having said that, I will end with an insinuation about 2022: Bolsonaro's victory depends on the abandonment of the Spending Ceiling Law or, at least, on a new “flexibility”. To simplify a complex account, just remember that, according to the Ministry of Economy, federal actions against the effects of the pandemic will reach the mark of BRL 605 billion in 2020, with only BRL 20,6 billion in revenue reduction, or nothing at all. less than 8,4% of the estimated GDP for 2020.

If an economy with accelerated growth could not withstand the enormous blow of a fiscal adjustment of 8% of GDP in 2021, imagine the Brazilian economy convalescing from the pandemic, which he already entered shortly before returning to the ICU, contrary to what Paulo Guedes said.

The internal struggle for the Bolsonaro government is and remains tough, as Guedes has the support of the “Market”, therefore Rodrigo Maia, and most representatives of foreign capital and the mainstream media. It is likely that Rogério Marinho, the so-called “ceiling”, will have the support of most of the Centrão, as well as retail, civil construction, and industry to at least make the ceiling more flexible.

The uncertainty regarding the Brazilian situation until 2022 is enormous, in view of the unpredictable evolution of the pandemic, vaccination and global and local economic recovery. Assuming the most favorable external scenario, i.e. that the world recovery throughout the second half of 2021 until the end of 2022 is strong, provided that vaccination is successful and public spending promises made in China, Europe and the administration Joe Biden come true, what are the likely scenarios in Brazil? It makes it easier to understand the dilemma if we think of two extreme scenarios.

First scenario: the Spending Ceiling returns in 2021 and, thus, the victorious pressure of the “market” leads to a cut in social spending, public investment and even a reduction in working hours and wages for civil servants. In this case, Brazil is left out of the world recovery, alarming unemployment rises or falls slowly, popular pressure increases against the government. Even before losing re-election, Bolsonaro would be abandoned by Centrão.

Anyone who thinks Guedes wouldn't try such insanity should remember that his first proposal in the face of the pandemic was to save companies by killing workers, that is, the suspension of wages for 4 months without any compensation. We will see whether Bolsonaro will demonstrate the temerity of putting his political fate in Guedes' hands.

Second scenario: elimination or easing of the Spending Ceiling until 2022. After a period of financial instability, with a drop in the value of assets on the stock exchange, long-term bonds and the Real, Brazil would gradually participate in the world recovery, primarily driven by exports and then by the recovery of income and employment. Centrão would marry Bolsonaro for good, and he would become almost invincible in 2022.

Make your bets.

*Pedro Paulo Zahluth Bastos He is a professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp..

Originally published on the portal Major Card.



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