Arthur Lira’s victory and the impacts on democracy

February 17, 2021

Congressman Arthur Lira, from the Progressive Party, was elected with 302 votes on February 1 as the president of the Chamber of Deputies for the 2021-2022 biennium. Because it exceeded the absolute majority (257 out of 513), the election was concluded in only one round. The victory of the candidate supported by Jair Bolsonaro against his rival, Baleia Rossi, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement, in an electoral process marked by political clashes, twists and turns, and power games, represents another uncertain piece to the unstable Brazilian politics.

The president of the House of Representatives is responsible, above all, for representing it in its speeches and sessions, commanding the College of Leaders, defining votes in the plenary, and having influence over the installation of Parliamentary Investigation Commissions (CPIs), one of the ways in which the Legislative Branch exercises its oversight role. It is up to the president of the House to accept or not a request for impeachment against the President of Brazil, having the power to delay or speed up the voting on agendas of interest to the Executive.

We will, God willing, participate and influence the presidency of the House with these parliamentarians. This was the statement made by Jair Bolsonaro on the eve of the elections, after a meeting with PSL deputies. Such an allegation presents worrying signs, which are even more aggravated when we analyze the conjuncture of the House election process.

The electoral process

The candidacy of Lira, supported by Bolsonaro, already represents a contradiction in relation to the ideals espoused by the president, since even Arthur Lira presided over the centrons – a union formed by the parties PP, PL, PRB, PTB, PSD, SD and DEM that occupies almost half the seats in the House of Representatives – promised to end the old politics in his candidacy, represented mainly by the aforementioned alliances.

On January 4, the leaders of some of the opposition parties to the candidate supported by Bolsonaro – PT, PDT, PSB, PCdoB, and Rede – made a commitment to support the presidential candidate Baleia Rossi. In a statement, the PT said the alliance “is necessary to defeat Jair Bolsonaro’s pretensions to control the House of Representatives. The commitment was made in view of the fact that Baleia’s victory would represent a greater defense of democracy. As already said, the election was marked by betrayals, one of them was that of Marília Arraes against her party, the PT, that even though she had signed an alliance against Lira, the deputy voted for the candidate in order to get votes to be elected to the position of Second Secretary of the House.

Besides this occurrence, the candidate Baleia Rossi suffered betrayals within the DEM, one of the main factors for this was the refusal of the president of his party, ACM Neto, to close support to the candidate chosen by Maia to continue his mandate. ACM Neto claimed neutrality in the election process, saying that the party’s deputies would not be penalized if they voted for a candidate other than Rossi.

Until the moment of his candidacy for the presidency of the Chamber, Lira acted behind the scenes, with only 15 bills presented by him. His trajectory began to gain more notoriety in the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff, in which he voted in favor. In addition, his position was contrary to the impeachment of the then-president of the Chamber, Eduardo Cunha, one of his main allies. In the context of the current government, Lira gained influence in 2019 by getting closer to Bolsonaro, offering political support in exchange for indications of positions to third parties.

National Congress – Chamber of Deputies. Photo: Wikimedia

Currently, Lira is suspected of embezzling millions of dollars from the Legislative Assembly of Alagoas and of leading a group that diverted public resources, simulating a false origin of the money in order not to arouse suspicion. Besides his possible criminal involvement in corruption, he was also accused of libel and slander by his ex-wife. Because of his position as a defendant due to corruption and also for criminal organization in Operation Lava Jato, it is not yet known whether, should Bolsonaro be impeached, Lira could be in the line of succession to the presidency behind Mourão.

To celebrate his victory, Arthur Lira held a party for about 300 people in Brasilia, in the midst of the pandemic, with many of the guests without protective masks, even though in his inauguration speech he reiterated the importance of fighting the virus. The party was attended by Congressmen Julian Lemos and Joice Hasselmann, both affiliated with the PSL and who have broken alliances with President Jair Bolsonaro. After being criticized by Bolsonarists, Hasselmann declared on Twitter: “I hope Arthur Lira is the Eduardo Cunha of @jairbolsonaro, paute the impeachment so that the Chamber corrects the mistake we made in 2018. It won’t take long for Bolsonaro to try to tractor the new president of the Chamber, who is not one to kill himself with his fingernail.”

Another factor that directly interfered in the elections was the release of parliamentary amendments to Congress by Bolsonaro amounting to R$504 million. The choice of the Executive to release the amendments at the time of the campaigns for the presidency of the House was a decisive factor in the outcome of the elections, since with the release of amendments there was a direct influence on who the deputies would vote for.

Lira’s election: developments and consequences 

In a first moment, the most immediate consequence of Lira’s election in the House is the insertion of parliamentarians who share his ideological and political views.

The members of the Executive Board are, in their majority, allies of the mayor. Lira, when asked about the creation of new Parliamentary Investigation Commissions (CPIs), said that “this is no time for division and elbowing”. With the election, there is also the possibility of closing the ongoing CPIs, such as the Fake News CPI. He also said he was against the CPI on health, which would start an investigation on the conduct of the covid-19 crisis by the Bolsonaro government.

It is also important to mention that, because he is the President, Lira can contribute to the advancement of the interests of the Executive in the House. On February 3, Bolsonaro delivered a list of proposals to Congress that are considered priorities for the federal government. Among them is the so-called customs agenda, which includes, for example, the homeschooling proposal.

Furthermore, Bia Kicis, a congresswoman nominated by Arthur Lira to chair the Constitution and Justice Commission (CCJ), responsible for analyzing the constitutionality of proposals being voted on, in addition to continuing or shelving projects, is investigated by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) in the democratic acts inquiry, which aims to investigate agendas that defend unconstitutional actions, such as the closing of the National Congress and the STF.

Bolsonarist, she is also investigated by the inquiry of fake news, besides adopting a negationist posture regarding the pandemic context we are experiencing.

In an interview for Estadão, Kicis quotes Lira when saying “our Congress is conservative”, and admits that if an impeachment process reaches the CCJ, it would be “absolutely buried”. When asked about her participation and dissemination of protests favoring the closing of the STF and the return of the dictatorship, Bia Kicis replied:

“But I never carried those posters. Let’s be very honest here. There is a demonstration with 10,000 people wearing green and yellow, with the Brazilian flag, singing the national anthem, supporting the president. Then, you have a little group of one or two people there with a banner. What responsibility do we have for that?”

Bolsonarism and Unaccountability 

What responsibility do we have for this? Such a statement guides many of the actions of the President of the Republic and his supporters, who disseminate antidemocratic, authoritarian, and negationist values, but once these are concretized in reality in the form of attacks on the institutions of the Democratic State of Law, they “wash their hands”, transmitting the blame for events that occurred for values that they themselves are responsible for spreading. These acts also manifest themselves in Bolsonaro’s lines about the coronavirus epidemic. “So what, I’m sorry. You want me to do what?” were the president’s words in April 2020 about the number of deaths in the country.

Thus, it is possible to perceive that Lira’s victory, more than the occupation of the position of Speaker of the House and his nomination of parliamentarians who support the President of the Federation, represents a strong political backing to further strengthen the ideals and the system of power that is founded, mainly, on extreme neglect towards the population and hatred towards the opposition.

The challenges for the future

Maintaining the Legislative’s autonomy in relation to the Executive, containing the effects of the pandemic, the increase of legal insecurity and regressive conceptions of public order, and the rise of an (even) more authoritarian populism are just some of the adversities that await the Brazilian political scenario.

For Jan-Werner Müller, political scientist and author of “What is Populism?”, the populist politician is anti-pluralistic and claims to be the only true representative of the people. This type of governance, sustained by economic instability, poor quality public services, and corruption, raises questions about the efficiency of institutions as a whole, discrediting the legitimacy of democracy itself.

This scenario becomes even more alarming as 2022 approaches. Lira’s victory exposes the difficulty of forming a broad front for the presidential elections, given the implosion of the alliance of parties that were supporting Rossi.

Despite the factors mentioned here that lead to a potentially worrisome future, the purpose of the text is not to point to a fatal scenario of instability to which we are doomed. In Brazil, conflicts are repeated in a constant game of power and articulation – and it is up to us to mobilize to guarantee the affirmation of the Constitution and consequently, the guarantee of the Democratic State of Law.

By Raissa Michaela [1] and Izabela Santarelli [2]

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[1] Undergraduate student of State Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Voluntary extension of CJT – UFMG.

[2] Undergraduate student of State Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).