Institutions and Competition

Struggle to control Brazil's Congress stays ugly

January 17, 2018

UPDATE 9 DEC With incoming president Bolsonaro lacking firm leadership in Brazil's lower house, Exame and other sources report an escalation in the feud between the Bolsonaro family and the powerful transgenerational political clan, the Maia family. Rodrigo Maia, scion of the clan, is president of the lower house and unwilling to cede or trade power of the Lower House presidency to a Bolsonaro lackey. Unpleasant social media charges, including improper financial activity asscociated with some of president-elect Bolsonaro's sons, are making hopes for a smooth transition of power less lienkely. Even vice president-elect Gen. (retired) Hamilton Mourau, who sees himself as a moral and ethical compass for the new regime, has become involved noting that those determined to have committed improper activity will have to face the consequeces. None of this is likely to be settled over hugs and pizza, as are so many political squabbles in Brazil.

UPDATE 21 NOV In what appears to be an effort to disrupt current Lower House president Rodrigo Maia from his campaign to continue to control Congress, Brazil president-electJair Bolsonaro has appointed three members of Maia's DEM ("Democratic";) party) to cabinet level positions in his incoming govesernment. Influential political economy print and online resource EXAME is reporting that Bolsonaro, his inner circle, including his three politically active sons, are pushing back against efforts by the powerful current Lower House President Rodrigo Maia in his campaign to remain president of the Lower Chamber in the Congressional term that begins after Bolsonaro takes power in January. Maia has just hosted a welcome lunch for nearly 100 new members of the Lower Chamber and according to EXAME, was behaving as if he will continue to be "the boss." The Bolsonaro Clan apparently sees a Lower Chamber led, and, seemingly controlled by Maia (with some help from the still powerful Rio-based Maia Clan including Rodrigo's father, Cesar), as an impediment to the Bolsonarista agenda. The Brazil political gossip resource Congresso em Foco (Congress In Focus) is also covering what it calls the ciumes (jealousy) in the politics of the Bolsonaro-Maia clan relationship and how the Bolsonaros may be trying to "sandbag" Rodrigo Maia's campaign to control the Lower Chamber.

UPDATE 15 OCTOBER According to Brazil's major content aggregator website UOL (acronym for Online Universe) and other mainstream print and online media, Rodrigo Maia, a former presidential candidate who became disallusioned and who continues as president of the Lower House during the lame duck days of the outgoing government of Michel Temer, could continue in his job in the likely event that the right wing retired army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, is elected president of the republic on October 28th. Maia is a member of the neoliberal DEM ("Democratic";) party, which gained 8 federal deputies in Brazil's lower house in the October 7th elections (up from 21 deputies in 2014). ACM Neto the leader of the DEM party is a Bolsonaro supporter. His real official name Antonio Carlos Magalhaes Grandson- who is a relative of the most powerful Brazilian senator of the post-Vargas era Antonio Carlos Magalhaes, whose power base was Bahia State. ACM's career, paralelled the growth of Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht also headquartered in Bahia. Still the Workers Party, will still control the most seats in Lower House with 56. And in a surprising showing, the Jair Bolsonaro's Social Liberal Party (PSL) went from less than 10 seats in 2014 to 52 seats in the October 7th national elections. Maia remaining speaker (president) of the lower house will depend on whether Bolsonaro and his those close to him feel he is the right person to help guide Bolsonaro's controversial programs through an increasingly fractious and fragmented Congress.

UPDATE 9 MAY Several western media sources including Reuters are reporting that Joaquim Barbosa has announced, via Twitter, that he is no longer a candidate for president of Brazil. He says he made the decision to withdraw for entirely personal reasons. He recently joined the Brazilian Socialist Party and indicated he was interested in running for the nation's highest office. But as a newcomer to the Socialist Party his presence, while welcomed, generated a rather tepid response from old school party bosses, who could gain more patronage by becoming part of a coalition that supports a big name candidate who is part of the traditional political class. The Portuguese language version of Voice of America called Barbosa "one of the favorites."

UPDATE 7 MAY With no "Afro Brazilian" (black) candidate for the presidency looming as a contender in the public opinion polls at this time, a Brazilian woman, offers an opinion published by Al Jazeera suggesting that a "pact of whiteness" exists among the ruling "white" (who are a minority of Brazil's population) class groups that enables them to dominate the majority of Brazilians, namely blacks and mulatto groups. The author herself is white, and a student at the New School for Social Research in New York's chic (and expensive) Grenwich Village neighborhood, an institution that was considered a hotbed of communism and socialism during the Cold War. The author bases her "pact of whiteness" argument on the fact that Brazil, according to the national health surveillance system, is, in the loosely regulated global commerce in biomaterials, one of the largest importers of caucasian sperm in the world. Unfortunately, the Al Jazeera article is not likely to help the presidential candidacy of Joaquim Barbosa, a former chief justice of Brazil's Supreme Federal Tribunal (supreme court) who has a reputation as a fighter against corruption, who could become a serious "Afro Brazilian" presidential candidate. Draw your own conclusions.

UPDATE 13 APRIL With the campaigning for the first round of Brazil's presidential voting already underway, Brazil newspaper of record (and online journal) Folha reported today that the leadership of the DEM (as in "democratic";) party is organizing a publicity tour of six major Brazilian states to promote the "pre-candidacy" of lower house speaker Maia and the neoliberal politics and brand of the DEM party "brand." The article suggests that the main objectives of this "tour" are to help DEM candidates win more seats in Brazil's lower house, where Maia, scion of a powerful Rio political clan is "the boss" (thanks to a little help from his father and his father's powerful friends).The publicity "tour", which will not require Maia to participate in the traditional barnstorming, will also test the viability of Maia's presidential credibility (presidenciavel). The bottom line, in the view of this blogger, is that the "tour" will increase the political currency of the DEM party, making it an attractive partner for an alliance with a larger party with Maia as the presidential candidate, or someone else, and if victorious in the second round of voting, would result the naming of DEM politicos to cabinet positions. Further developments in the Lava Jato investigations, and other Federal Police investigations, and new revelations from Marcelo Odebrecht (now living at home under "house arrest";) could damage the credibility of a few "pre-candidates." One prominent Brazilian politician, a former presidential candidate, recently entered hospital (he was later released) in an effort to stave off prosecution and to obtain sympathy from prosecutors and the voting public.

UPDATE: 5MAR 2018 Brazil media, including Globo are reporting that Lower House speaker Rodrigo Maia is, once again, a "pre-candidate" for president of republic, the first round of voting currently scheduled for October. The implications of this move and other developments will be addressed in a future blog column.

UPDATE 2FEB 2018 1920hrs (BRT) Reuters,and Brazil media are reporting that a federal judge has ordered that the passport of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ("Lula";) be returned to him by authorities, and that his name be removed from a national register of people who should be watched and impeded as flight risks that is maintained by the Federal Police. If Lula is ordered to go to jail in the next few weeks he will still have to do so. Lula remains the most popular candidate with 34% among citizens sampled in a recent "scientific poll." However in another poll, by Datafolha, 53% responded saying they think Lula should go to jail. But when factoring in a margin of error of 2%, the information makes a great dramatic news story but is in reality a "too close to call" situation. Even if he does do some jail time there are legal options that could still allow him to run for president. For background, the basic reasoning behind requiring Lula to surrender his passport was that Ethiopia, where the UN-OAU event he was to attend was being held, does not have an extradition treaty with Brazil. UPDATE ENDS

UPDATE 25 JAN 2018 2200hrs Brazil's Justice Minister has prohibited former president Lula from traveling and has ordered him to surrender his passport. His trip to Ethiopia is cancelled.

UPDATE: 25 JAN 2018 A panel of judges voted yesterday unanimously 3-0 to condemn Lula in the "second instance" (deny his appenegaal challenging his conviction on the matter before them). His jail time (to be served in "closed confinement" was extended from 9 years to 12 years and one month. His chances for being able to run for president in 2018 are now nil to small. On Jan 26th he leaves for a trip to Addis Ababa, Ethioipa for 48-72 hours to paricipate in a UN event that was scheduled long ago. Ironically, he feels persecuted and is now comparing himself to former South African Communist Party- and CIA asset- Nelson Mandela. As for Sergo Moro, the actual subject of article below, some Brazil media continue to suggest that he still has ambitions to run for president this year and is waiting for the right situation to make his move. UPDATE ENDS

Musical chairs ministers and a sovereign credit downgrade pose tough challenges for presidential candidates.

With the government of president Michel Temer losing ground in the battle to reform Brazil’s pension ss ystem and candidates jockeying for position in October’s presidential race lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia made headlines recently when Brazilian media announced he woul be making an official trip to the United States and Mexico.

Having to face global politicians and business leaders on the heels of Brazil’s sovereign credit rating downbrade by Standard & Poor’s— due to economic and politcal concerns— instead of Maia jump starting a presidential campaing he would more likely be jumping the shark.

After landing in Trump territory the scion of one of Brazil’s powerful political clans changed the script, telling journos that he’s not a candidate after all.

Maia, as lower house speaker, is already constitutionally next in line to succeed president Michel Temer, or act in his stead when he is outside the country. Temer vacated the job of vice-president to lead the nation following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in August, 2016.

Maia will become president for a few days on January 23rd now that doctors have green lighted the 77 year old Temer to travel out of the country to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. Temer has been dealing with heart and prostate issues.

Just last month doctors ordered the unpopular leader to cancel a trip to southern Asia.

This means that Maia will be running the country on Wednesday the 24th, when a court in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre will rule on an appeal by former president Lula to have his conviction on a corruption charge, and the 9 1/2 year sentance that goes with it, overturned.

The Workers’ Party and their allies have organized pro-Lula demonstrations in several cities and if the court turns down Lula’s appeal it is possible-- but not likely-- that he could go directly to jail that very same day, thus becoming inelgible to run for president in October. Forbes magazine notes that even "liberal democrats" in the United States have rallied in favor of Lula.

UPDATE 23 JAN: In addition, the center right Americas Society-Council of the Americas has published an article stating that Lula should be a candidate in the October presidential vote.The article has been buzzed up on the popular "Brazilanissimo" blog in Brazil.

Because Lula leads all candidates in the polls his being sent off to serve a long jail bounce could cause things to get real ugly real fast for acting president Maia while Temer and his coterie are hob-nobbing in the rarefied world of multilateralism on the Magic Mountain.

While some financial pundits and are enthusiastic about Brazil’s extremely modest recoveryn from recession organized by fianance minister— and presidential candidate Henrique Meirelles— frustration over the level and quality of services provided at the federal, state and local levels has created cracks in Temer’s once powerful “big center” coalition and social upheavals by “factions” (criminal organizations) and militant grass roots groups representing the working poor, homeless and disenfranchised.

According to Globo, Temer has either fired or accepted the resignation of 15 ministers due to performance or political differences since taking over as president 20 months ago. Another 13 to 15 ministers are expected to resign before the April deadline so they can be free to run for elected office in October.

That considered Temer’s ability to stay in power by playing musical chairs comes with an average cost of one new minister every 33 days, slightly off the pace of impeached former Workers’ Party president Dilma Rousseff, who ran through 86 ministersg during her 5 1/2 years in office (one new minister every 22 days).

Although Temer’s close political advisers are enthusiastic about developing closer economic and political ties with the European Union, continuity, stability and quality of government (governance) are major challenges. For example, only 20% of Brazilian federal government ministers finish a presidential term, while the figure in EU nations is 70 percent.

Rodrigo Maia made the smart move by backing away from the presidenciavel tag Brazil’s MSM pinned on him. The last time a Brazilian politician was showcased in the United States as a presidential contender it was Rio governor Sergio Cabral back in 2012.

Cabral is no stranger to Rodrigo’ Maia’s powerful father, former three term Rio mayor Cesar Maia, who still sits on the Rio City Council, and fends off charges of improper activity as if he was swatting flies.

Sergio Cabral didn’t have a fly swatter though. He was sentanced last year to 72 years in prison for effectively running the government of Rio de Janeiro state as a criminal organization in an adjunct of the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation that ensnared Lula.

If he is serious about taking the risks associated with making a serious run for the presidency, 47 year old Rodrigo Maia can build political equity and coalitions over the next 8-12 years and then when he is 59 or 60, after the next wave of scandals and half-baked reforms comes and goes, decide if he wants once again to play tweet the press.

note: the original text- before updates- in this column was cross-posted from HuffPost

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