Bolsonaro Backer Sees Him With 50% Chance of Not Finishing Term

(Bloomberg) -- Jair Bolsonaro’s belligerent style and controversial coronavirus response may ultimately cost him his job, said a senior lawmaker who was once a staunch supporter of the Brazilian president.

Sergio Olimpio Gomes, leader of Bolsonaro’s former PSL party in Brazil’s senate, said the president is stirring so much political tension during the pandemic that he risks becoming the target of street protests when the surge subsides. While Olimpio doesn’t see an impeachment as imminent, he warns that it will become more likely if the president doesn’t change tack in the remaining two and a half years of his administration.

Bolsonaro Backer Sees Him With 50% Chance of Not Finishing Term

“I see a 50% likelihood of Bolsonaro not making it until the end of his term,” the senator known as Major Olimpio said in an interview. “The president is on the razor’s edge.”

At least 30 impeachment requests sit in Brazil’s lower house awaiting speaker Rodrigo Maia’s endorsement. Claims against Bolsonaro range from alleged interference with police work to mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. Maia has said he won’t move forward with them because the country’s priority should be fighting the virus. The president has also forged a political alliance with centrist parties, whose support is key to pass legislation and avoid defeats in congress.

Olimpio was once one of Bolsonaro’s closest allies, playing a key role in the 2018 campaign that elected him president under a law-and-order platform. They joined forces while both were representatives at Brazil’s lower house and spent years enhancing their credentials as pro-gun, anti-corruption crusaders.

Yet they distanced themselves months ago over issues including Olimpio’s support for a congressional inquiry into the role of the judiciary. In the interview, the senator also criticized Bolsonaro’s rapport with centrist parties, many of which are the target of corruption probes, saying the president betrayed his base with this alliance.

“Right-wing voters feel that Bolsonaro has let them down,” said Olimpio, a former police officer who remains a popular figure for many conservative voters in Latin America’s largest economy. In the 2018 election, he was the most voted senator in the country.

Olimpio has said he plans to run for governor of Sao Paulo state in 2022, what may explain his distancing from Bolsonaro as they compete for the same anti-corruption base of support. When asked about his current relationship with the president, he said he still considers himself “an ally, but not blindly.”

Bolsonaro’s office declined to comment on this story.

Soured Relationships

Bolsonaro has soured many relationships since taking office early last year. He’s antagonized Congress and the judiciary throughout his term, and even his own cabinet. On Friday, Health Minister Nelson Teich quit after Bolsonaro insisted on prioritizing the economy over social distancing and preached the use of controversial treatments to tackle the pandemic, such as hydroxychloroquine.

Teich resigned just 29 days after Bolsonaro replaced Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired for clashing with the president for the same reasons. Brazil is currently the world’s fastest-growing coronavirus hotspot, reporting 254,220 confirmed cases as of Monday and overtaking the U.K. as the nation with the third-largest number of cases globally.

“All countries on earth are facing a health and economic crisis because of the virus,” Olimpio said. “Brazil is the only one that adds a political crisis on top of that, and this is Bolsonaro’s fault.”

Another senior cabinet member, former anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, quit after a spat with Bolsonaro last month. Moro objected to the firing of the head of the federal police and accused the president of trying to meddle in police investigations that could implicate Bolsonaro’s family. The family denies wrongdoing.

To try to round up support, the president in recent weeks has started to offer positions in state-controlled companies to lawmakers from centrist parties in an attempt create a buffer against a potential impeachment. Olimpio expects the move to backfire; he thinks centrist parties will eventually drop their support of Bolsonaro when public opinion turns on the leader in larger scale.

“The only reason why we haven’t seen demonstrations is because of the virus,” the senator said. Polls show that Bolsonaro’s approval rating, while in decline, is still significant: the latest poll put it at 32%, down from 34.5% pre-pandemic.

“Once social distancing is over, you’ll have a scenario of hunger and desperation that may create conditions for an impeachment,” Olimpio said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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