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  • Brazil's Lower House President Rodrigo Maia attends a session at the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, Brazil May 22, 2019

    Brazil's Lower House President Rodrigo Maia attends a session at the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, Brazil May 22, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 May 2019

The lawmakers' decision to keep the COAF under the Economy Ministry was a setback for Bolsonaro and especially Judge Sergio Moro.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was close to losing support from Congress Wednesday, only winning approval from disgruntled lower house lawmakers by a small margin, for his move to downsize the country’s executive branch.

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But lawmakers voted against putting the Council for Financial Activity Control (COAF), a key tool for flagging suspicious funds moving through the banking system, under the control of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a former judge who jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Sliva despite a lack of evidence.

The vote on the first decree Bolsonaro issued the day he took office in January was a test of his ability to govern without courting traditional parties in Congress, which is threatening to derail his agenda after months of mutual antagonism.

The decree that reduced the number of ministries to 20, from 29 previously, was due to expire on June 3.

Failure to gain approval would have thrown the government into crisis, forcing a ministry reshuffle and increasing doubts that he could rally enough support for a neoliberal pension reform bill now in the hands of a political class he openly insults.

A former army captain and apologist for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro wielded little influence in his three decades in Congress and cast his grassroots campaign as a crusade against the horse trading of Brazil’s “old politics.”

“Bolsonaro despises democracy. We have to isolate his anti-democratic attitude and lack of respect for institutions so this does not paralyze the country,” lawmaker Marcelo Ramos, chairman of the congressional committee on pension reform, told Reuters.

Ramos said Bolsonaro was unable to build a coalition with the 308 votes needed to pass the pension bill, estimating the bill could at the moment only muster 200 votes.

Bolsonaro has said he would rather work with issue-focused caucuses than party leaders and has called on his supporters via social media to pressure lawmakers obstructing his agenda.

He attacked the political class Monday for being the country’s “big problem” and blamed interest groups for impeding him from governing.

Lawmakers passed the decree despite their frustration with Bolsonaro’s refusal to reach out to them with government jobs and support for projects in their constituencies.

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