Brazil’s Lula seals pact with opposition parties in hopes of political boost

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Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Wednesday sealed a much-anticipated pact with two main opposition parties, in a development set to reshape the country’s political arena and strengthen the government’s hand in passing legislation.

The deal, which comes after months of wrangling and backroom negotiations, exchanges two cabinet posts in the leftwing leader’s government for political support in Congress from the rightwing Progressistas (Progressives) and Republicanos (Republicans).

Both parties were important allies of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, who left office in January.

For Lula, the pact should help in getting government legislation through a broadly conservative Congress, which has until now acted as a buffer against the president’s more progressive proposals.

Analysts expect the alliance will expand Lula’s support base in the lower house — the 513-member Chamber of Deputies — from about 250 lawmakers to about 320. This would be enough to surpass the 308-vote threshold needed to make amendments to the constitution.

“It’s as if in football we had a team that led the championship in the first round. And now, in order to remain leaders, we decided to reinforce the team,” Alexandre Padilha, minister for institutional relations, told the Financial Times.

After Congress last month passed a fiscal framework to loosen limits on spending, the Lula administration is now pursing tax reform. Congress will also have a say on the government’s recently announced budget for next year as well as a proposal by finance minister Fernando Haddad to tax offshore entities and online sports gambling.

The pact underscores the malleability of the political landscape in Brasília. Both the Progressives and Republicans are members of the so-called Centrão, or Big Centre, an amorphous bloc that trades support for plum appointments and resources for its electoral machines.

The support of the Centrão can often make or break a government. Bolsonaro had allied himself with the bloc, despite once being a vocal opponent of its transactional style of politics.

As part of their deal, Lula handed over the ministry of sport to André Fufuca, a Progressives lawmaker and close ally of house speaker Arthur Lira. The ministry of ports and airports was given to Silvio Costa Filho, a lawmaker with the Republicans.

With municipal elections looming next year, the ministers will be hoping to use their positions to begin projects that will burnish their parties’ reputations ahead of the polls.

Analysts cautioned, however, that the new alliance would not be a blank cheque for Lula and that some lawmakers would continue to vote on their own volition.

“Many Centrão parliamentarians are conservative and will not align with the government on leftwing agendas,” said Wagner Parente, chief executive of BMJ Consultores. “The [pact] does not imply unrestricted support for Lula.”

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