Bolsonaro allies win in Congress and slow impeachment drive

BRASILIA, BRAZIL (AP) — President Jair Bolsonaro helped elect two allies to the top jobs in both Houses of Brazil’s Congress, a success that is expected to help him blunt a campaign by protesters who have been calling for the conservative leader to be impeached.

Deputy Arthur Lira of the centre-right Progressive party was elected by his colleagues on Monday to be Speaker in the Chamber of Deputies, while Senator Rodrigo Pacheco of the centre-right Democrats party was chosen as the Senate president.

Any impeachment move would have to start in the Lower House, where outgoing Speaker Rodrigo Maia has been a critic of the president though also rejecting calls for an impeachment effort.

Maia’s candidate to be his success, Luiz Felipe Baleia Rossi, got 145 votes in the Lower House dispute while Lira got 302.

In the Senate, Pacheco also had the support of opposition parties despite Bolsonaro’s explicit support.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro. PHOTO: AP

Neither Lira nor Pacheco mentioned Bolsonaro in their victory speeches, and both promised to lead an independent legislature.

In accepting the leadership of the Lower House, Lira said, “Neutrality should mark this presidency, the respect to the customs, to the minority and the majority.”

Still, the Brazilian president published a picture of himself with Lira on his social media channels.

Opponents of Bolsonaro, who is midway through a four-year term, have been staging street demonstrations to demand his ouster over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused more deaths in Brazil than any other nation except the United States (US).

The Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University in Washington political scientist Beatriz Rey said the two wins reduce Bolsonaro’s risk of being impeached, although they don’t nullify it.

“Bolsonaro has won, but it is not clear whether he will get unconditional support,” Rey said. “He has no coalition in Congress and that is why he is so active in this election.”