Watching Brazil: In defence of democracy and human rights

Author: Andresa Porto – Political Scientist and member of GTPI.

Now that the Brazilian government’s new party blocs have been defined, it has set the tone for the next period of government.

Amid controversy, the Senate has voted in its president – Davi Alcolumbre. He replaces Renan Calheiros, previously the favourite, who resigned just before the vote. Alcolumbre’s party, the Democrats, supports the government. Despite his relatively unknown position in comparison to Calheiros, his support is likely to aid President Bolsonaro’s aims to push forward his conservative social policies and liberal economic reforms.

Also controversially, the President of the House of Representatives, Rodrigo Maia, promised the same position to different parties, stirring up much negotiation and debate. The new posts, and issues surrounding them, have further confirmed to civil society that we need to protect the space for progressive voices to be heard. As a result, civil society organizations have invited parliamentarians to sign an application for the creation of a Joint Parliamentary Front in Defense of Democracy and Human Rights.

It plans to incorporate cross-party membership and civil society. It aims to secure the commitment of parliamentarians to maintain democracy and support human rights related issues. 

Debate on human rights strangled

Other changes include:

  • Leonardo Quintão was replaced by Ana Beatriz Ferreira Groba as the political coordinator of the parliamentary affairs sub-office of the Civil House. Groba has the task of improving the already shaken dialogue between the President’s Planalto Palace and the National Congress, in order to work on two priorities: Pension reform and the ‘anticrime package’. It is viewed that the longevity of Bolsonaro in power depends in part on the approval of these proposals.
  • Joice Hasselmann was chosen to be the leader of the Bolsonaro administration in the National Congress. Hasselmann is already negotiating amendments and positions to secure support for the pension reform. It is a priority for Brazilian civil society to counter these plans as the proposals would reduce workers’ rights.

These positions were confirmed later than expected. This delay, along with a strong focus on these two campaign agendas, may prevent important items for civil society from being analyzed and debated. 

Provisional MeasureNo. 870/19, signed by Jair Bolsonaro, has removed the LGBT population from the list of policies and guidelines aimed at the promotion of human rights. Decisions such as this are extremely worrying and increases the need for the official Joint Parliamentary Front to protect people’s basic human rights.

Rising tensions and decreasing popularity

The first minister of the Bolsonaro administration, and Bolsonaro’s previous right-hand man, Gustavo Bebianno, was fired by the president following a disagreement with the president’s son, who publicly called Bebianno a liar. This has increased the tension between the ministries and the presidency.

Research published by the National Confederation of Transport (CNT) has shown that only 40% of the public evaluate the Bolsonaro administration positively.

Bolsonaro’s desire to retain control and popularity has resulted in the President reversing some decisions in order to retain control. With the controversy; questionable handling of deciding or firing positions; and the rising tensions – the stability of the president is already starting to look rather weak.