Bolsonaro’s dysfunctional presidency may be nearing endgame

Brazil leader has only himself to blame for open chatter about possible impeachment

After five rocky months, Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has finally left behind the chaos that marked the start to his term in office only to head straight into a crisis that has a whiff of being terminal.

Last week his own son Carlos was on Twitter warning of plots to "topple the captain", while the former paratrooper himself cryptically spoke of a coming "tsunami" before on Friday sharing a text with supporters on WhatsApp that described Brazil as "dysfunctional" and "ungovernable".

In passing on the analysis, he noted that even before he was stabbed on the campaign trail last year, he believed: “The system is going to kill me.”

The Bolsonaros' paranoia can only have been increased by the open chatter among the political class in Brasília about possible impeachment. That might seem crazy talk so early into his term and just seven months after he won a thumping election victory. But the president has only himself to blame for turning what a few weeks ago were still private mutterings into a public debate.


History shows Brazil’s political system does not tolerate incompetents in the executive, however impressive their mandates. Without a skilled operator in the presidential palace the machinery of state starts to grind to a halt. Something has to give and historically it’s the president. This explains why two of the first four elected following the return of democracy in the 1980s were evicted from office.

Many expect this investigation to provide further evidence of the Bolsonaros' links to Rio's murderously corrupt militias

And the fifth, Jair Bolsonaro, is possessed of far fewer political skills than even Fernando Collor and Dilma Rousseff, forced out in 1992 and 2016 respectively.

He has formed an administration that is a mess of warring factions in which the president’s sympathies clearly lie with its ideologically lunatic wing, which seems to believe it can govern through Twitter and conspiracy theories. The altogether more sober generals who signed up for this picaresque adventure already sound fed up.

No majority

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s relationship with Congress – where any impeachment vote would take place – hovers between dire and non-existent. He has no majority to pass legislation and is unlikely to build one while he keeps attacking its members as corrupt representatives of “old politics” (true in many cases, but that is another story).

The optimism that millions of Brazilians placed in someone who in three decades of public life accomplished the square root of nothing beyond amassing a large collection of violent, misogynistic, racist and homophobic statements is beginning to ebb.

As the administration stalls on launch, the already anaemic economy is slipping back into recession as investors take fright at the chaos in Brasília. Unemployment is once again on the rise. Paulo Guedes, the government's economics tsar recruited with great fanfare from the world of high finance, looks like a Premier League player wondering what the hell he is doing in a team threatened with relegation from the Championship. To add to his discomfort, Congress has already discussed dumping his flagship pension reform plan for one of its own.

And all the while prosecutors in Rio are closing the net around Bolsonaro’s eldest son Flávio. His dubiously acquired fortune has provided them with an excuse to sieve through his family’s record during its time as members of the city’s far-right political fringe.

Corrupt militias

Many expect this investigation to provide further evidence of the Bolsonaros’ links to Rio’s murderously corrupt militias formed by serving and former police officers.

Of all the threats the administration faces this might take the longest to fully take form, but could eventually prove to be the most lethal to it and the family itself.

True to their choleric temperaments and anti-democratic views, Bolsonaro and his sons blame this increasingly disastrous panorama on a conspiracy involving media, Congress, the supreme court and other dark forces determined to topple Brazil’s first democratically elected far-right president.

In response to this threat, they have called their supporters out on the streets on Sunday for a show of force that some commentators worry could be a prelude to a more aggressive move against the other two branches of the federal government.

But it is a high-risk gamble. If the crowds fail to materialise, an early end to Brazil’s most dysfunctional presidency in living memory becomes even more likely. Sure as Bolsonaro points out himself, he was never born to be president anyway.