Jair Bolsonaro has, as president, what in Brazil they call the power of the pen, the power of the state machine and public spending. With his sights set on being re-elected next Sunday, the far-right president has turned on the tap of public money to alleviate the serious hardships of the poorest and thus wrest precious votes from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that will bring him closer to the victory. These electoralist measures of the president begin to have an effect among the most needy. The most recent polls show that he gets more support than ever (40% compared to 56% for Lula) among those who receive an aid called Aid Brazil. During his long career as a deputy, Bolsonaro accused the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff of using similar payments to buy votes.
A good part of the measures are improvements to the so-called Aid Brazil, a monthly payment of 600 reais (114 dollars or euros) received by more than 20 million Brazilians living in poverty. Although that amount required Bolsonaro to jump the spending ceiling and is not guaranteed in next year’s budgets, both he and Lula have promised to maintain it next year. As of January 1, one of them will govern and must seek money to meet the most needy. More than 33 million Brazilians are hungry.
The news was announced by the president after the first round, three weeks ago, when he was five points behind Lula. He swept that day in the Northeast, the poorest region of Brazil and the main granary of votes of the Workers’ Party (PT), where he got two-thirds of the votes against a third of the current president and former military man.
They highlight, among the novelties, that half a million more families will now receive the monthly aid Auxilio Brasil, the main electoral hook of Bolsonaro beyond the proclamations in defense of ultra-conservative values and freedom; the payment dates have been advanced so that the money enters the pockets before the 30th, when they are summoned to the polls; the beneficiary women will have an extra pay and those who find a job will pocket an extra 200 reais, according to the compilation made by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. In addition, the banks have decided to accept this monthly payment as a guarantee to request credits.
To Gustavo Fernandes, a professor of Public Administration at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, these measures seem “unique and some questionable from a legal point of view,” such as the possibility of requesting these loans, he explains over the phone. That is to say, turning a social policy into the path of obtaining a loan whose interests, to make matters worse, can become extremely high.
The professor emphasizes that “these are direct payments to people’s pockets on the eve of the elections” and recalls that these income transfer measures were not in the Bolsonaro government program and are only possible because Congress “declared a situation of emergency with an electoral objective”. Brazil has laws that prohibit this type of spending at the municipal and state levels, but no regulation that vetoes it at the federal level.
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Other measures approved quickly and rushing to convince the electorate are aimed at the population in general, such as those that allow debts to be renegotiated or to use part of the money that the State saves on behalf of each worker to request a mortgage. Although unemployment and inflation are gradually moderating, eight out of ten families are in debt.
The president has also expanded subsidies for taxi drivers and truckers under the pretext of alleviating the high price of fuel. They are two groups very similar to his postulates.
The elections are so close and so polarized that the battle will be decided by a narrow margin. The orphan votes are few and the candidates are right now on the verge of a technical tie, with Lula somewhat ahead. That is why Bolsonaro wants the transport companies to give their drivers free on Sunday the 30th so that they can vote and, instead, he prefers that the municipalities do not offer free transport. Because the specialists consider that he mobilizes above all the poorest voters, those most in tune with Lula, those who must choose between spending their scarce money on taking the bus to go to the polls or buying rice and beans to eat.
Bolsonaro came to power with an ultraliberal discourse, he wanted to leave the State behind, but the pandemic forced him to change course. And it gave him the opportunity to fulfill an old purpose, to bury the Bolsa Familia brand, the great emblem of the Governments of the Workers’ Party, an effective and cheap aid that was a great instrument to lift 36 million people out of extreme poverty. .
The far-right president has expanded the number of beneficiaries, has increased the amount and has eliminated some conditions to receive it. It is no longer required to take children to school, vaccinate them or undergo prenatal consultations. And if you find a job, you don’t lose the help either. Lula has promised to resurrect Bolsa Familia. Of course, with the current amount of 600 reais. Where the funds will come from is a mystery. The leftist leads a coalition of a dozen parties and six days before the elections he remains in the field of ambiguity, without detailing how he will manage to implement his many promises.
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