Posted on May 24, 2019

Impeach Bolsonaro? Just Five Months In, Talk Has Already Begun

Raymond Colitt et al., Bloomberg, May 24, 2019

Earlier this month, a procession of Brazil’s military cabinet ministers came to President Jair Bolsonaro with the same clear message: muzzle your far-right keyboard warriors or your government will implode.

Propelled to the presidency by a vociferous army of online ideologues, including his sons, Bolsonaro’s government comprises an uneasy mix of radicals, pragmatists and economic liberals. In his five months in office, Bolsonaro has done little to rein in the extremist fringe, even when they target Congress, the Supreme Court and members of his own administration. The former members of the armed forces, who make up a third of his cabinet and constitute the moderate faction, have endured particularly vicious abuse.

{snip} Bolsonaro’s approval ratings are sliding fast, while prominent erstwhile supporters who hoped for clean, decisive government have recanted, and legislators are beginning to jump ship. {snip}


At stake is not just a reform agenda needed to kick-start Latin America’s largest economy but the survival of a president who questions his own ability to govern. In the corridors of Brasilia there’s talk of resignation or even impeachment, a process which brought down another president just three years ago. But the chatter is less a sign of active plotting and more one of frustration with a president unwilling or unable to engage in politics.


Whereas previous Brazilian governments have often papered over their differences in public, while quarreling bitterly behind the scenes, the battles between the various factions of the Bolsonaro administration are fought out in the open. Brutal social media rows dominate headlines, with Olavo de Carvalho, a U.S.-based writer and astrologer performing the role of flamethrower-in-chief, with Bolsonaro’s three eldest sons — a senator, a congressman and a city councilor — frequently chiming in.


Attacks among allies have poisoned the atmosphere in Brasilia, complicating Bolsonaro’s legislative agenda, including a pension reform deemed crucial to putting the country’s finances on a stable footing. The situation became so tense that earlier this month a senior player at the heart of Brazil’s political wranglings had a nervous breakdown during an interview with Bloomberg News.

Indeed, as the stand-off deepens, Brazil’s economy drifts further into the red. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at almost 13 percent and the public debt stands at a record level.

Government institutions are often paralyzed in the crossfire. The agency that should be promoting Brazilian trade and investment has had three chiefs in the first four months of the year. {snip}

Meanwhile the president’s approval rating has taken a hit. A poll published on Tuesday showed that the percentage of Brazilians who reject his government surpasses those who support it.


Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets last week to demonstrate against planned cuts to the education budget. The government’s belligerent response to their grievances — characterized by the president’s description of the participants as “useful idiots” — only served to swell their number.


Congress remains supportive of at least some of his aims. On Wednesday night, the lower house approved a decree he issued to reorganize the country’s executive branch, cutting ministries.

Impeachment, at present, remains unlikely, and too traumatic for many legislators to contemplate. But an alternative idea — to effectively sideline the president — appears to be gaining ground among some in Congress.