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article imageBrazil's Bolsonaro can count on conservative grip over Congress

By Louis GENOT (AFP)     Oct 9, 2018 in World

Brazil's far-right frontrunner for the presidency, Jair Bolsonaro, is practically assured of controlling Congress if he wins, thanks to powerful groups of conservative deputies persuaded by his promises to promote families, farms and firearms.

Or, as Brazil's media have take to calling them, the "BBB" -- for "beef, bullets and the Bible."

That support transcends traditional parties, which in any case were weakened in general elections last weekend that also confirmed Bolsonaro as the presidential favorite ahead of an October 28 run-off against a leftist, Fernando Haddad.

Bolsonaro scored 46 percent of the vote to Haddad's 29 percent, and analysts say he has good odds of taking the presidency in two and a half weeks.

In Congress, Bolsonaro's previously insignificant Social Liberal Party saw its ranks in the lower, 513-seat Chamber of Deputies swell from eight to 52. It also grabbed its first-ever seats in the 81-member upper house, where it will have four senators.

Haddad's Workers Party will still be the biggest party in the lower house, with 56 seats, down from a previous 61.

In all, around 30 parties are represented in the legislature.

- Bolsonaro 'tsunami' -

A man holds a pistol during firing practise at the "Calibre 12" shooting club on September...
A man holds a pistol during firing practise at the "Calibre 12" shooting club on September 3, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro

The pro-Bolsonaro "tsunami," as observers are calling it, confirmed Brazilian voters' hunger to break with business-as-usual politics after a long series of congressional corruption scandals.

Although Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper, has himself been a deputy for the past 27 years he deftly sold himself as a political outsider determined to break the old system.

It helped that the 63-year-old Catholic was one of the rare politicians not muddied by graft allegations.

His tough-on-crime promises and pledge to revive Brazil's post-recession economy through a sell-off of state companies has seduced the better-off segment of Brazil's 210 million strong population.

Still, he faces fierce opposition from nearly half the electorate for his hardline ultraconservatism and worrying admiration of military strongmen.

He has declared torture to be legitimate, waxed nostalgic of Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, minimized rape, denigrated women and criticized homosexuality.

Haddad bears the burden of blame that many voters assign to the Workers Party for the country's worst-ever 2014-2016 recession.

The downturn happened during the presidency of the party's Dilma Rousseff, impeached in 2016 for fiddling the government's books. It followed a boom during the 2003-2010 reign of her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now in prison for corruption.

Since then, Brazil has had a center-left president, Michel Temer, who is deeply unpopular and did not stand for election.

- Generals in government? -

Whoever wins the presidency will be unable to govern without Congress. The deputies hold the keys to passing the budget and the reforms promised during the campaign.

Brazilian military police outside the Congress in Brasilia
June 30 2017
Brazilian military police outside the Congress in Brasilia June 30 2017
Sergio LIMA, AFP/File

"Bolsonaro will govern with the congressional lobbies. That's the truth. It goes beyond the parties," an influential evangelical pastor, Silas Malafaia, said in a Facebook video as he sat next to Bolsonaro.

The backing of the conservative deputies was initially behind the scenes, but came out into the open in the week before the first round, when Bolsonaro suddenly soared in the polls, so much so that some thought he could win outright in the first round.

Sylvio Costa, founder of a specialized site called Congresso em Foco, said they closed ranks around the far-right candidate "out of fear of seeing the left return to power."

"We are going to unite to make sure candidates linked to corruption and the worsening of the economic crisis don't come get back into power," a congressional group representing Brazil's powerful agrobusiness sector, the Parliamentary Agricultural Front, said last week.

The leader of the evangelical bloc in congress, Hidekazu Takayama, said supporting Bolsonaro was a "natural tendency" given the candidate's "Christian values for the family."

Brazil's powerful agribusiness sector is a key source of support for Bolsonaro
Brazil's powerful agribusiness sector is a key source of support for Bolsonaro

The gun lobby also rallied around Bolsonaro. Its leader in Congress, Arminio Fraga, said on social media he was Bolsonaro's friend for 36 years and wanted to "govern with him."

In Brazil, the president typically doles out ministry portfolios to parties lending coalition support.

But Bolsonaro has vowed to do the opposite. He wants to drastically cut the number of ministries and put several retired generals in government, without regard to parties.

"With the legitimacy he got from his first-round victory, he could try to govern without trading the ministries," Costa explained.

"But to get lasting support he will have to maintain a high level of popularity ... and show good economic results."

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