The shadow power of the Brazilian Congress will maintain its influence for four more years | International

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The gray color predominates in the suits and in the heads. Despite the fact that diversity and youth rule in Brazil's demography, the vast majority of its parliamentarians are elderly white men who have spent years chaining one mandate after another. Spectators of the Lula-Bolsonaro duel, many of them are sure that they will continue under the domes designed by Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia for four more years, whatever happens. If, as the polls predict, Lula becomes the next president of Brazil, he will have to deal with a National Congress possibly as conservative as the current one.

The Bolsonarist wave that swept through 2018 gave birth to the most conservative National Congress in history. Bolsonaro came to power without a strong party behind him, but he hoped to govern with the support of the 'BBB' benches, an acronym for 'Ox, Bala and Bible'. This is how parliamentarians grouped in thematic caucuses are called in Brazil, defending, respectively, the interests of the almighty agricultural and livestock sector, security agents, and religious figures, especially evangelicals: an ultraconservative combo that has always existed —and that stopped attempts of more progressive policies in the years of the PT in power—but which came out stronger and has been the most solid pillar on which Bolsonaro has leaned in these years.

In mid-term, criticized for his disastrous management of the pandemic, with popularity in free fall and with requests for impeachment accumulating on the table, Bolsonaro understood that he could not govern just hand in hand with his most faithful base and forged an alliance with the center. This is the name given to the group of parties that, without any defined ideology, support the current government in exchange for money and quotas of power, which in less refined environments would be called extortion. Since the fall of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, her power has been growing. The weaker the president, the more he is held hostage to the blackmail of the center. The president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira, has been key in that alliance, who kept all the petitions for impeachment presented by the opposition against Bolsonaro in a drawer and guaranteed the president a certain political tranquility.

This authentic power in the shadows, which Bolsonaro reviled as the "old politics" before throwing himself into his arms so as not to be shipwrecked, has every chance of surviving four more years, despite the strenuous initiatives to fill the National Congress with blacks, women or indigenous people, who come, above all, from parties to the left of the PT, such as the PSOL.

A battle between thousands of candidates

Brazil works with open lists, and each campaign is a fierce battle between thousands of candidates. This year it will be 10,629. In the Chamber of Deputies there are 513 seats. The rookies will have a very difficult time, as 448 will try to stay in their place. That great majority, where conservative deputies predominate, has everything in their favor to revalidate the mandate, as Edson Sardinha, head of repairs at the Congress in Focusor, a medium specialized in political information.

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“There is an absurd number of candidates for deputies, but those who really have options are very few. Campaign resources are concentrated on candidates running for re-election. The renewal will be very low because the one who has the money to campaign is the one who is already known, ”she points out. The parties allocate their funds to their most competitive faces, and this year there are more resources than ever, a mountain of money: 4,900 million reais (923 million euros) of public money, almost triple that in the last elections. Changes in the electoral laws also favor the congressmen who are already in Brasilia, as well as the parallel budgeta kind of legalized vote-buying launched during the Bolsonaro government that also ends up inflating veteran parliamentarians with resources.

Sardinha recalls that most political analysts predict that a center-right Chamber of Deputies will come out of the polls on October 2. An eventual victory for Lula does not necessarily mean that the turn to the left will also move to the coveted seats in Brasilia. Millions of Brazilians will vote for Lula for president, but as deputy they will elect the lifelong politician who, from the capital, fights for his state highway to be paved or a hospital to be built. He won't necessarily be a progressive politician. Overall, it's a pretty random vote.

Throughout the campaign, Lula has reinforced the importance of electing left-wing parliamentarians to ensure that he can govern calmly and without relying excessively on the feared center. It remains to be seen whether the Brazilians will heed his advice. A few days ago, a Datafolha poll revealed that 70% of voters had not yet chosen their candidate for deputy. A similar percentage of voters confess that they do not remember which deputy they voted for in the elections four years ago.

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