by André Pereira Cesar*
Translated and reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
Taking office a few weeks ago, the new National Congress will dictate the course of Brazilian politics, economy, and society in the coming years. President Lula (PT) is very interested in maintaining a good relationship with deputies and senators, given the great challenges facing the country. It will not be an easy task, however.
First of all, it must be said that the alliance that elected the PT, called the “broad front”, is an authentic patchwork quilt. It is difficult to imagine a meeting between, say, deputy Guilherme Boulos (Psol/SP), on the left, and representatives of the conservative and liberal caucuses of União Brasil, the party that resulted from the merger between the PSL and the DEM. Babel is in its pure state.
Regarding the new Parliament, in the first place, it is evident that it has a clear center-right bias, is more conservative, and, in theory, less aligned with the PT’s proposals. Together, the PL, PP, União Brasil, PSD and Republican benches hold more than half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In these stands, some defend a rapprochement with the Planalto, but nothing is guaranteed. The PT’s traditional allies (PC do B and PSB, to name a few, are a minority). Lula will need to negotiate his agenda point by point, and he will certainly be defeated on certain issues.
This explains, to a large extent, the rapprochement between the President of the Planalto and the powerful President of the Chamber, Deputy Arthur Lira (PP/AL), perhaps the most influential politician on the scene in Brazil. Lula knows that, without the support of the Congressman, he will collect setbacks. Some PT allies, however, see this situation with reservations.
In the evaluation of center-left politicians, PT, and other parties historically aligned with the PT, the Lula government may be held hostage by Lira and the Centrão. Even more, the conservative and physiological agenda of the mega bloc can dominate the debates and, at the limit, make the government agenda unfeasible.
Thus, the tax reform proposal becomes the first test for the cohesion of the government’s support base. Everyone points to changes in the tax system as essential for resuming the country’s growth, but no one wants to lose. The initial debate has already made it clear that there will be many obstacles to the approval of the matter. Governors, mayors, sectors such as agribusiness and services, and the financial market, no one will give in. Once again, history could repeat itself and the reform could be stalled – what has been happening since the government of tucano Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in the last decade of the last century. Real and immediate risk.
The recent public debate between the mayors of large cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, and the special secretary for tax reform, Bernard Appy, over the ISS (a municipal tax, to clarify) epitomizes this reality. It is a preamble of what lies ahead.
Likewise, the new fiscal framework, which should be presented by the government next month, will be the object of pressure among parliamentarians. There is still no idea about the content of the proposal, but it is a fact that the allied leaders will need a lot of political skill to approve it.
Some provisional measures edited by the new government are also in the crosshairs. The one that deals with restructuring the public machine, for example, received a “jabuti” amendment that, if approved, will reduce the power of regulatory agencies, a setback for Brazilian democracy. Another controversial MP is the one that resumes the so-called casting vote in the Tax Appeals Administration Council (CARF), the administrative court that judges appeal from taxpayers to assessments by the Federal Revenue Service before the processes go to court. Highly unpopular proposition.
To make matters worse, a kind of frying process for Haddad is underway. The discussion on the extension of fuel price relief put the Minister of Finance on a collision course with the so-called “political area” of the government. The fiscal rigor of the economic team does not find support among deputies and senators and, even more, some criticize the portfolio holder’s style.
In the Federal Senate, the picture is similar. A wave of conservatives entered the Upper House, many of them linked to Bolsonarism – Damares Alves (Republicans/DF), Hamilton Mourão (Republicans/RS), Sérgio Moro (União Brasil/PR), and Magno Malta (PL/ES), among others. others. This block will hit the drum and try to make life as difficult as possible for the government. There will be no truce or rest.
Still, in the Senate, the shadow of the possibility of opening impeachment proceedings against ministers of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) will remain. The notorious and combative Alexandre de Moraes will be a permanent target. In this case, the President of the House, Senator Rodrigo Pacheco (PSD/MG), will need to keep a firm hand to control the situation. Does he have that strength?
The thematic benches will also continue to act in defense of their interests – many of them contrary to the government’s agenda. Ruralists, evangelicals, industry, and many more, these groups have historically managed to enforce their demands. Here, the partisan issue is secondary.
There is still the heritage, the “legacy” of Bolsonarism in the air. After all, former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL), in voluntary exile in Florida, received no less than 58 million votes in past elections and this political capital could be used by his most faithful allies. The events of January 8th show that the problem is more serious, and the government needs to fearlessly face these adversaries. We can say that this ultra-right has come out of the closet and will consolidate itself as an important political actor in the country.
Finally, the possibility of installing CPIs, such as investigating the acts of January 8, could paralyze the daily work of Congress. This happened, for example, during the Joint CPI of Correios (2005/2006) – the case of Mensalão – and in the Mixed CPI of Petrobras (2014/2015) – in the wake of Operation Lava Jato -, with harmful results for Brazil.
As can be seen, the new government will experience turbulent times. There is no room for the so-called “honeymoon” between Lula and society. The charges will be permanent, and any errors will have high costs. The petista and his allies will walk on thin ice the whole time. The question remains – is Lula still the “snake charmer” in Brazilian politics?
* André Pereira César specializes in political analysis, legislative procedures, and the functioning of the various bodies of the federal executive. Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Political Sciences from Unicamp, with a specialization in budgetary control from the School of Finance Administration of the Ministry of Finance (DF). He was a member of the São Paulo School of Government. He was a consultant for the Brazilian Institute of Political Studies (IBEP).
André Pereira Cesar (2023) "The political game of the new National Congress". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. ISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 3 Num. 1. available at: https://bras-center.com/the-political-game-of-the-new-national-congress/, accessed on: June 5, 2023.