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What the Victory of Davi Alcolumbre as the President of the Senate Means for the Bolsonaro Administration

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One of the great winners of the night was the Chief of Staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, also of the DEM and political godfather of Alcolumbre

The young senator Davi Alcolumbre, 41, was elected in the first round on Saturday February 02 as the new president of the Senate for the 2019-2020 biennium, with 44 of 77 votes recorded.

The path to victory was troubled: yesterday, the initial session was adjourned after the impasse before the presidency of the House and the majority decision to declare an open vote.

Alcolumbre was the only remaining member of the previous House and so took the lead of the session and refused to get out of the chair for seven hours.

He was criticized for conflict of interest by having previously stated publicly that he himself was a candidate.

The session returned today with a new controversy, first about closed vote (guaranteed in internal rules and reaffirmed by the decision of Justice of the Superior Court Toffoli) and then with a vote that went wrong.

Eighty-two ballot papers were registered for 81 senators, generating an accusation of fraud that has not yet been clarified.

It was in the second vote that David won, now without the competition of former favorite Renan Calheiros, who withdrew his candidacy in the middle of the dispute.

Who wins

Today’s result is a political victory for the DEM, which also gained leadership in the Chamber of Deputies (with Rodrigo Maia), and buried the claims of the once-mighty MDB Party to maintain some strong core of power in the Bolsonaro administration.

Aware of the mistakes of Dilma Rousseff in 2015, who acted openly for her coreligionists and ended up receiving her worst enemy, Eduardo Cunha, as a gift. Lorenzoni acted discreetly and behind the scenes in favor of Alcolumbre.

He held public neutrality to the end but as soon as the victory was announced, he commemorated openly referring to the biblical episode of David against Goliath.

Minister Paulo Guedes and his economic team preferred the experience of Renan Calheiros as an asset in the articulation of reforms. However, Calheiros is a faithful ally of the Workers Party and represented  the old politics of the left-wing.

Christopher Garman, director of the US-based political risk consultancy Eurasia, thinks the government has mismanaged the Senate and House but does not believe it will compromise the economic agenda. Both Alcolumbre and Maia defended the reforms in their victory speeches.

Fernando Schuler, an Insper professor, says that the outlook is favorable for the approval of a pension reform in the first half of the year.

Transparency

For Garman, the result today also showed a Congress more sensitive to public opinion, which manifested itself widely via social networks against the candidacy of Renan Calheiros (MDB).

Throughout the day, terms like #EnterrodeRenan (#RenanBurial) have been highlighted in Twitter trending topics. In this sense, the issue of open voting was essential to constrain Renan’s supporters.

Despite the STF’s decision to ensure secrecy, as the regiment requires, as more and more senators cast their votes, it became clear that it would be impractical to make formal punishments.

Flavio Bolsonaro, who is embroiled in allegations of corruption over his term as a state deputy, was the most symbolic case.

In the first vote, he did not declare his vote: he said on social networks that he wanted to preserve his father, but it is speculated that he had negotiated protection from Renan.

After criticism, he arrived in the second vote supporting Alcolumbre and it was precisely at that moment that Renan came up on the rostrum to stand as the guardian of democracy and withdraw his candidacy.

The point is that if the opposition to Renan was what united the block Alcolumbre, it is difficult to predict how they will act in other situations.

“The group that elected Alcolumbre has people from the right-wing to the left-wing who allied with the anti-Renan mission. The group was cohesive only until the victory, but it ended, the Senate fragmented,” said Thiago Vidal, manager of political analysis at Perspective.

The Senate begins its scattered and full-fledged legislature. In the Senate, of the 86 seats, 46 are occupied by new names, a renewal of more than 87%. In the Chamber of Deputies, the rate is 52% of elected representatives.

The number of seats represented in the Senate rose from 15 in 2015 to 21 now. The innovations include We, PSL, PHS, Pros, PRP, PTC and Solidarity. All had no representatives in 2015 and now have one each.

With the maneuvers of yesterday and today, Renan turned from the possible ally of the Bolsonaro government to an enemy and possible opposition leader in the corridors of the Senate. Starting Monday, his strength will be tested.