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Pact with Arthur Lira is a trap

An agreement with Centrão can tie Lula’s government to a conservative and unreliable governability.

Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

The Centrão [the “big-center”] wants to join the government. The parliamentary bloc led by Arthur Lira aims for positions, state-owned companies, and ministries in exchange for supporting Lula in the Chamber of Deputies. The ongoing negotiation involves deputies from PP, Republicanos, and even part of Bolsonaro’s party, the PL.

Strategic positions are the target of the Centrão. The declared targets are: Caixa Econômica Federal (Federal Savings Bank), the National Health Foundation (Funasa), linked to the Ministry of Health, Correios (Brazilian Postal Service), Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Board), the Ministry of Social Development, responsible for Bolsa Família (Family Allowance Program), the Ministry of Sports, and the Ministry of Women. The Ministry of Tourism has already been given to Celso Sabino, from União Brasil (Union Brazil).

The swift approval of the Tax Reform in the Chamber, by an overwhelming majority, and changes in the functioning of the Carf (Administrative Council for Tax Appeals), favoring the government in tax disputes, were indicative of the “goodwill” of the Centrão towards the Executive. In this context, it is also worth mentioning the rapid progress of the Fiscal Framework in Congress.

The national business community and the corporate media celebrate this harmony between the powers “for the sake of the country.” It is worth noting that, in this effort of “national unity,” Minister Gilmar Mendes [Supreme Court] ordered the suspension of the Federal Police investigation that was probing a millionaire corruption scheme involving Arthur Lira in Alagoas.

The expansion to the right of Lula’s government support base is presented as necessary to isolate the far-right in Congress and advance the government’s agenda. However, is forming a pact with retrograde political forces that were aligned with Bolsonaro until recently truly worth it? Will it be beneficial to the country and the working people?

The price is steep.

If the entry of the Centrão into the government is confirmed, the first direct consequence will be the strengthening of the right-wing faction within Lula’s administration, closely tied to conservative values, the interests of economic elites, and political patronage practices. Ministries and important state-owned companies will be controlled by the same parliamentary bloc that supported Bolsonaro’s government and its agenda in Congress until last year.

As a result, there will inevitably be greater difficulty in adopting left-wing projects and public policies within the government, which aim to address the demands of the working class, black people, women, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQIA+ community, landless and homeless populations, and environmental protection.

Lula was elected to reverse the legacy of Bolsonaro and Temer. To end hunger, which affects millions of families. To make Brazil’s economy grow while reducing social inequalities and embracing ecological transition. To reclaim the social and labor rights that have been eroded in recent years. To stop the privatization process and the surrendering of national assets.

With the Centrão in the government, it will be more difficult to achieve all this because this program presupposes confronting the privileges of the dominant elites. And what is even more dangerous: the eventual failure to fulfill these promises can play into the hands of the far-right, which is closely watching for the Lula government’s failure.

What kind of governability do we need?

Some sectors of the left argue that it is necessary to compromise with the Centrão in exchange for so-called “governability,” given that the majority of congress members are right-wing. The problem is that this top-down arrangement ties the government to a conservative and unreliable pact.

Will Lira support taxing the wealthy and implementing a new income tax table that allows exemption for those earning up to R$ 5,000 [a little over a 1,000 dollars. t/n]? Will he work towards revoking the labor reform and the outsourcing law? Will he change his favorable stance on the temporal landmark law? Will he reconsider the privatization of Eletrobrás [Brazilian government-controlled electric power company] and the autonomy of the Central Bank? Will he support the punishment of Bolsonaro and all the coup plotters? Certainly not.

As is known, the Centrão is far from being known for loyalty and programmatic commitments. At the first serious crisis the government faces, Lira and his group will jump ship and fall back into the lap of Bolsonarism once again. Who doesn’t remember what happened to Dilma Rousseff when the right-wing bloc that composed the government, led by Temer (MDB), decided to break the alliance with the PT?

It is urgent to build another model of governability that relies on popular mobilization to pressure Congress towards an agenda of political, social, and economic measures committed to workers’ rights, popular causes, democracy, and the environment.

As long as the left in the government remains hostage to the Centrão, agribusiness, and powerful economic interests, it will be impossible to achieve structural transformations in the country. Moreover, and no less important, the far-right, which still retains considerable political and social strength in the country, will not be strategically defeated through a political and institutional agreement crafted from the top-down.

The second part of the Tax Reform, scheduled for the second semester, is emblematic of the impasse at hand. To have the wealthy pay income tax, to finally tax profits and dividends, as well as large fortunes, it will require social struggle and confrontation with the powers of big capital. The Centrão, banks, FIESP (Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo), agribusiness, Globo (media conglomerate), and other sectors of the ruling class will certainly not be allies in this battle. On the contrary.

To effectively combat social inequality with robust measures, mass mobilization around a leftist program will be necessary, one that nourishes popular hope in the construction of a country with social justice. It will require class struggle, not conciliation with the upper echelons.