Brazilian officials resign en masse to boost President Bolsonaro

Ten members of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet have resigned from their positions, along with three other top officials, in a move designed to help boost the far-right leader’s re-election prospects ahead of the general election.

The officials are expected to campaign for office in advance of the vote in October, as well as campaign for Bolsonaro. According to Brazil’s electoral law, top officials must resign from their current posts before they can run for other positions.

“I’m in my third straight administration, and I never saw a team of ministers so connected to the president, so loyal, so devoted,” outgoing Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio de Freitas said at an event organised for the officials on Thursday.

Outgoing Defence Minister Walter Braga Netto was made a special adviser to the president. He is seen as a top contender to become Bolsonaro’s running mate.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro held a ceremony for the departing and arriving ministers in Brasilia, Brazil [Eraldo Peres/AP]

The shake-up is an important step towards the hotly anticipated election, which is expected to pit Bolsonaro against his political rival, former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, political analysts said.

Even though the regional and presidential campaigns do not officially begin until August, both politicians have already begun holding large events.

Most outgoing officials have joined the same centre-right Liberal Party that Bolsonaro joined in November.

In the coming months, they will promote their achievements, as well as those of the administration in some of Brazil’s farthest reaches, according to Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo.

“Campaigning in a country this size is difficult; you need people to help with that,” said Melo, noting that Latin America’s largest nation has 27 states and more than 5,000 municipalities. “Their effort backs the president’s own re-election effort.”

Polls have consistently shown Bolsonaro trailing well behind Lula in a head-to-head runoff that is likely to follow the October vote. Pollster Datafolha showed da Silva leading by about 20 percentage points.

While that is a smaller margin than in prior months, Bolsonaro will need all the help he can get to close the gap given more than 12 million people are unemployed, inflation is running above 10 percent and fuel prices are surging.

Brazil's Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has consistently held a lead over Bolsonaro in the polls [Bruna Prado/AP]

Until campaigns officially begin in August, Brazil’s electoral laws forbid potential candidates from asking for votes directly, but does not prohibit events that resemble campaign rallies.

On Saturday, Lula participated in an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of Brazil. He told the crowd he believed the electorate will remove Bolsonaro from office this year.

For his part, Bolsonaro has made more than 20 trips around the country while launching programmes and public works in the first three months of the year, according to his official agenda.

On Sunday, the president addressed thousands of supporters in the capital, Brasilia, which many observers characterised as the unofficial launch of his campaign.

The event introduced the slogan “Bolsonaro, the people’s captain”, and a video displayed archive images from the president’s life for cheering supporters dressed in the green and yellow colours of the Brazilian flag. Some hopped on stage to take selfies with the president.

Speaking at Thursday’s event, Bolsonaro, a former army captain, started by celebrating the legacy of the two-decade military dictatorship on the anniversary of the 1964 coup. Then he lauded his Cabinet for its work since he took office in 2019.

“One-third of my ministers leave today with their heads held high,” Bolsonaro said. “It’s obvious that they will run for office. If not, they wouldn’t leave.”

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