Brazil's Bolsonaro gives govt's 'soul' to centrist bloc

·2 min read

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — President Jair Bolsonaro swore in his new chief-of-staff Wednesday in a move to shore up congressional support for legislation, and also seen as aimed at stifling an impeachment push and scoring votes in Brazil's poorer northeast region.

After Bolsonaro tapped Sen. Ciro Nogueira to occupy the post last month, he described the position as his administration's "soul.″ Nogueira belongs to a centrist political bloc known for ideological malleability and the old-style politics of delivering support in exchange for positions — a practice Bolsonaro had vowed to his supporters that he would never embrace.

The conservative president drew closer to the so-called Centrao this year as his administration's pandemic response was targeted by a Senate committee's investigation, his popularity plunged ahead of his 2022 reelection bid and the opposition staged nationwide protests calling for his impeachment. He has said in recent days that he was part of the Centrao during his political career.

"I want to tell all of you, the arrival of Ciro Nogueira now is a demonstration by the government that ever more we want to deepen our relationship with Congress,″ he told attendees at the presidential palace. He added that the executive and legislative are effectively one government branch, since they rely on each other to implement most anything.

Nogueira hails from Piaui state in Brazil’s northeast, a region that has long been a stronghold of the Workers’ Party. The party's most prominent member — former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — is expected to challenge Bolsonaro in next year's election and opinion polls put him well ahead in a runoff.

“Bolsonaro kept saying he was going to do away with ‘old politics,’″ da Silva wrote on Twitter last week. “What is his new politics? Become hostage to the Centrao?″

Members of the Centrao held key positions in all administrations since Brazil's return to democracy, including da Silva's, but have never before secured the chief-of-staff post.

Ahead of Nogueira's swearing-in ceremony, video of a 2017 television interview circulated widely on social media showing him saying that Bolsonaro had a "fascist, prejudicial character″ and that da Silva had been Brazil's best president, especially for the northeast.

On Wednesday in Brasilia, he was eager to show allegiance to his new boss.

“We’re crossing the ‘Cape of Storms’ — political, economic, social and institutional storms — and your excellency, President, you are our helmsman,″ Nogueira said. “And I will be your helper, constantly at your side and advising of dangers along the route.″ ___ Associated Press writer Marcelo Silva de Sousa contributed to this report.

David Biller, The Associated Press

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