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Bolsonaro allies poised to head Congress after Senate vote | Reuters

Brazil’s Senate on Monday chose a lawmaker endorsed by President Jair Bolsonaro to head the upper chamber, giving the far-right leader a base among center-right politicians with whom he had once vowed never to ally. Slideshow ( 5 images )

Senator Rodrigo Pacheco won a two-year leadership term by a vote of 57-21.

Another new Bolsonaro ally, Arthur Lira of the right-wing Progressive Party, is expected to win the speakership of the lower house later on Monday.

Bolsonaro’s support for Pacheco and Lira underscore his embrace of a fragmented bloc of lawmakers known more for their horse-trading prowess than ideological commitments, called the ‘Centrão,’ or ‘Big Center.’

The president ran in 2018 on a pledge to clean up the capital and end decades of pay-to-play politics that culminated in a record-breaking corruption scandal known as Car Wash.

But a stronger standing in Congress should dispel for now the growing clamor for his impeachment from critics who have filed 57 requests to unseat him, mainly for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed some 224,000 Brazilians.

Pacheco, of the center-right Democrats party, has vowed to seek a compromise between fiscal restraints and assistance to socially vulnerable Brazilians hurt by the pandemic.

He has also said he would not make a priority of privatizing Eletrobras, Latin America’s largest utility and one of the government’s biggest potential asset sales as it works to cut the fiscal deficit.

Despite deep recession and the world’s second-deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, opinion polls show Bolsonaro retaining his core support of a third of the electorate, though his negatives rose in January as the second wave of the pandemic began to bite.

His popular support, along with a growing willingness to discuss traditional horse-trading in Congress, have helped him secure a political base of center-right lawmakers.

Opening the cash taps has also helped. Newspaper Estado de S. Paulo reported last week that Bolsonaro authorized 3 billion reais ($550 million) in pork barrel spending in the districts of 250 lawmakers and 35 senators.

(Story corrects name of party to Progressive Party in third paragraph) Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien

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