Saturday, December 5th, 2020
  
 

Bolsonaro hangs tough as his popularity dives

“The President ought to watch out because if the economy doesn’t improve, things could rapidly spiral out of control,” Andre de Paula, leader of centrist PSD, said. The PSD is one of a handful of centrist parties Bolsonaro relies on to muster the necessary support for his reform agenda in Congress.

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“Impeachment is always a risk for a tainted government in a bad economic scenario.”

Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed Trump of the Tropics, however, says that he’s not for turning. In an interview with O Globo newspaper last week, he said that his provocative remarks were not part of a grand strategy. “I’m like that,” he said.

A poll published on Thursday showed Bolsonaro’s approval rating stood at 31 per cent, down almost 2 percentage points since June. Just over 39 per cent of respondents consider his government bad or terrible.

His press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The President has repeatedly questioned the official narrative of Brazil’s military dictatorship, recently claiming falsely that one of the country’s most prominent journalists lied about her torture during the period.


Homeless people sleep under a bridge in front of a mural depicting US President Donald Trump as a puppeteer manipulating Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil.Credit:AP

He’s disparaged Brazilians from the country’s impoverished north-east, rubbished claims that hunger remains a policy challenge, and accused the National Institute of Space Research of manipulating data on deforestation.

In a press conference on Thursday, Bolsonaro said the “false” numbers were damaging his reputation. “Brazil’s image, and my personal image, is terrible abroad due to the labels placed on me,” he said.

Taunts last week that he knew what “really happened” to the father of the head of Brazil’s Bar Association – a man whom an official investigation found was murdered by the state during the dictatorship in 1974 – prompted public outrage even from previously stalwart allies, such as the governors of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. He later added the inquiry that apportioned blame for the men’s death was wrong.

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For the time-being, however, that looks unlikely to force a change of course. For Renato Nobile, the president of Genial Advisory, which manages around 30 billion reais ($11 billion) in assets, the government’s progress on its economic reform agenda will soon start to have an impact on the real economy.

“The moment is so good that, even with the President talking rubbish, the impact is zero,” he said.

For members of Bolsonaro’s PSL party in Congress, the President is merely being consistent. “No one is surprised by Bolsonaro’s style,” Junior Bozzella, a PSL congressman, said. “It’s the same Bolsonaro from the campaign. No one had the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Political analysts are scratching their heads, unsure whether the outbursts are part of a sophisticated strategy to divert attention away from uncomfortable topics or merely the President’s natural inclination.

“The President hasn’t felt, objectively, the effect of any of his bombastic declarations,” Lara Mesquita, a political scientist at the FGV think tank and business school, said.

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Yet the Brazilian government has backpedalled on its plans to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem following pressure from meat exporters worried about sales to the Middle East, she noted. “If some economic cost materialises, perhaps that will have an impact.”

Foreign policy is perhaps the area Bolsonaro most risks jeopardising. His decision to snub France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on his recent visit to Brasilia is unlikely to scupper the ratification of the recently inked European Union-Mercosur trade deal on its own. However, it adds weight to protectionist voices within the EU who are highlighting Bolsonaro’s indifference to environmental concerns as a reason for ditching the deal.

For Jose Nelto, leader of Podemos, another centrist party whose support is key for Bolsonaro’s economic agenda, the President’s comments could undermine his policy objectives. “I am worried because ideology ought not to influence trade deals and foreign relations,” he said. “Trade has no ideology.”

Another move that has alarmed some supporters is Bolsonaro’s decision to appoint his son Eduardo, a federal congressman, to the US embassy in Washington. While the nomination requires Senate approval, Bolsonaro appears increasingly confident – following the blessing of Trump himself – that it’s effectively a done deal.


Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, left, meets with former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon in New York in the lead up to his father’s presidential election win in 2018. Credit:Twitter/@BolsonaroSP

On Sunday, responding to a local media report that the Bolsonaro “clan” (he has two sons in politics) had employed some 102 relatives – of theirs and those of other politicians, in their offices – he indicated he did not think employing his former fathers-in-law or other relations was wrong.

“It’s natural, when someone leaves my office, when they die, at their wake there is already someone by my side asking for a job. It’s natural to employ someone who is on your side,” O Globo quoted him as saying.