Bolsonaro's Relations With Congress Are Improving, Speaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- After a rocky start, the relationship between Brazil’s government and Congress is steadily improving, according to House Speaker Rodrigo Maia.

Brazil’s most powerful lawmaker said in an interview that he expects the government’s proposal for an overhaul of the country’s overstretched social security system to pass the lower house in the first half of this year. Investors and analysts consider the legislation crucial to shoring up Brazil’s battered public accounts.

“There’s no Plan B,” he said. “There’s a crisis in the pension system and in public spending, so there is no Plan B. This has to be resolved.”

Bolsonaro's Relations With Congress Are Improving, Speaker Says

President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters have repeatedly criticized the legislature’s traditional, transactional style of politics and Maia himself has come under attack from one of the president’s sons. But with Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, controlling only 54 seats in the 513-seat Chamber of Deputies, the government needs congressional allies to pass any kind of legislation, let alone pension reform which requires a three-fifths majority in both houses.

Maia said that the government’s dialogue with the lower house is improving, and highlighted efforts by the Onyx Lorenzoni, the president’s chief of staff, to listen to lawmakers.

“In the last few weeks Onyx has helped a lot, the president too,” he said. “The atmosphere among deputies is slowly getting better.”

As for the pressure legislators are under from the president’s voters, who have often targeted Maia and others on social media, the lower house president said that such a direct relationship between politicians and the electorate was a new feature in all democracies, and that it’s here to stay.

“This new democratic moment is generating a certain amount of instability in liberal democracies the world over, but it will be settled in the next few years,” he said.

Foreign Policy

The house speaker expressed concern over the state of Brazil’s foreign policy, which has pursued a radically different tack since Bolsonaro came to power. After years of pushing multilateralism and South-South diplomacy, Brazil is now allying itself firmly with the U.S., Israel and rightwing governments in Europe.

Maia said that Brazil’s decision to recognize the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as president had undermined its ability to play the role of a negotiator in efforts to end the crisis in the neighboring country.

“Foreign policy is making mistakes and these could cause great damage to Brazil,” he said.

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