Brazil Centrist Lawmaker to Face Bolsonaro Ally in House Race

Brazil’s outgoing lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia anointed the leader of one the country’s largest centrist parties to go up against an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro for the top post in the lower house.

Representative Luiz Felipe Baleia Tenuto Rossi, 48, a businessman and president of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, will run in a February election for the house speakership with the backing of 11 parties that could deliver 281 votes, according to the bloc’s estimates. The group comprises a wide range of ideologies, from the communists to the Social Liberal Party, under whose banner Bolsonaro swept to election in 2018.

Brazil Centrist Lawmaker to Face Bolsonaro Ally in House Race

While barred from running himself, Maia is leading a campaign to mitigate Bolsonaro’s influence in the lower house. The government is backing another centrist candidate, Arthur Lira, who heads a coalition of about 200 legislators.

Read more: Brazil Top Court’s ‘Surprise’ Decision Clouds Reform Outlook

Both candidates are reaching out to leftist parties, which, with about 130 lawmakers in the house, are essential for any candidate seeking to reach the 257 votes needed to win the election. Most leftist parties have sided with Maia’s bloc, but dozens of lawmakers are expected to quietly switch sides ahead of the vote, which makes it difficult to predict the election outcome.

‘Free and Independent’

At stake is the power to effectively control the legislative agenda by deciding which bills go to a vote and when. A leadership independent from the executive branch may block at least part of the president’s conservative agenda. Most candidates say they back the agenda of economic reforms, which include a revamp of the tax system and other measures to cut spending.

“We want to make sure the house continues to be free and independent,” Rossi told reporters after the announcement.

Read more: Bolsonaro Ally Seeks to Drive Reforms at Lower House

The son of a former agriculture minister, Rossi was first elected as city counselor when he was 20. He has since been a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, a party that’s always gravitated around power since Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s. Rossi is in his second consecutive term as a federal representative for Sao Paulo state, the country’s richest and most populous.

The Senate will also pick its president in February. With a dozen potential candidates, the race is wide open in the upper chamber.

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