As the mid-term approaches, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is more conciliatory in order to broaden his parliamentary base with a view to re-election in 2022, even if it means offending his most entrenched supporters on the far right.
Illustration of this change in strategy: the choice for a seat on the Supreme Court of a judge who relies on the goodwill of several central political parties involved in major corruption scandals.
The appointment of Kassio Nunes Marques, endorsed by the Senate this week, has been the subject of fierce criticism from die-hard Bolsonarists.
During his election campaign in 2018, the former army captain promised to do away with “old politics” and arrangements with parties in exchange for support in Congress.
“Unlike his predecessors, he did not want to respect the rules of the game,” explains Leandro Gabiati, political scientist and director of the Dominium consulting firm in Brasila.
Jair Bolsonaro hoped to transcend party logic, relying on the “BBB” (Ox, Bible and Ball), the powerful parliamentary agribusiness lobbies, neo-Pentecostal churches and armaments, as well as on the massive mobilization of his supporters on social networks.
“He did not form a coalition of government and did not stop attacking institutions, with fiery speeches against Congress and the Supreme Court. But when things started to get complicated for him, he was at a loss, ”said Mr. Gabiati.
The Moro earthquake
And things started to get seriously complicated in April, when Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a real star in his government, resigned with a crash, causing a political earthquake in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
This former anti-corruption judge slammed the door accusing the head of state of interference in police investigations targeting his relatives, in particular his eldest son, Flavio Bolsonaro.
Jair Bolsonaro “risked being dismissed by Congress, so he was forced to negotiate with political parties. But then he realized that a solid parliamentary base could be useful, ”giving him more leeway to govern, continues Leandro Gabiati.
“It was inevitable that after a while he would come to terms with the political system in place. We have seen this with other right-wing populist leaders, such as Viktor Orban, in Hungary, or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, ”observes Geraldo Monteiro, director of the Center for Research on Democracy (CEBRAD) at State University. from Rio de Janeiro (Uerj).
Even if the head of state seemed to have buried the hatchet, avoiding the slippages he was accustomed to, some of his supporters did not hesitate to launch Bengal fires at the seat of the Supreme Court in July.
“Bolsonarism is a complex movement. There are extremist militants, but also the military, more pragmatic, or the ultra-liberal economic team. Bolsonaro must mediate all these internal tensions, ”explains Geraldo Monteiro.
The appointment of Judge Marques has, for example, been described as a “serious error” by the very influential Pastor Silas Malafaia, outraged to see the Head of State renounce his promise to place a “terribly evangelical” personality on the Supreme Court.
Need for results
“By reaching out to the center, the president loses the support of certain voters, but he must first secure the support of Congress to have important projects approved, such as tax reform or administrative reform,” says independent consultant André Rosa.
Last year, Mr. Bolsonaro had already had to make concessions to obtain approval for a finally watered down pension reform.
“To be credible and run for re-election in 2022, he needs results,” insists this political scientist, who sees him resume his bellicose posture only at the end of his term, with the approach of the poll.
Rather, Leandro Gabiati sees him having it both ways. “He is no longer going to clash with Congress or the Supreme Court, but he will continue to speak ill of the left, of environmentalists, so that his hard ideological core remains mobilized,” he predicts.