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Bolsonaro Urges Reforms After Pro-Government Rallies in Brazil

Aline Oyamada, Simone Iglesias and Samy Adghirni
Bolsonaro Urges Reforms After Pro-Government Rallies in Brazil

(Bloomberg) -- President Jair Bolsonaro called on lawmakers to further his reform agenda, starting with the approval of a crucial pension bill in Congress, after thousands of government supporters took to the streets in more than 100 cities across Brazil on Sunday.

Crowds in yellow and green -- the colors of Brazil’s flag -- turned up in cities including the capital, Brasilia, as well as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to back Bolsonaro’s pension reform after a series of opposition protests had eroded his popularity. Organizers had called for action in more than 300 cities, and there were demonstrations in at least half of them, according to local media.

Bolsonaro did not participate in the rallies but tweeted several videos of participants across the country, saying Brazilians “peacefully and spontaneously” took to the streets to hold politicians accountable. In a late interview with Record TV, he said that what’s missing in Brazil is that “we in Brasilia talk a little bit more and decide what needs to be voted; that’s also my fault.”

The demonstrations, seen as a gauge of Bolsonaro’s support after five tumultuous months in power, are unlikely to alter the political landscape, according to analysts. While turnout for Sunday’s rallies fell short of the numbers that protested education cuts earlier this month, the tone was supportive of the government and the social security overhaul.

"It was a reasonable rally, but that doesn’t weaken or strengthen Bolsonaro’s political power. His challenges remain," said Lucas de Aragao, a partner at political consultancy Arko Advice in Brasilia. “The government needs to create a good dialogue with Congress to advance with other measures beyond the social security reform, which I think will be approved."

Bolsonaro, a former congressman, won more than 57 million votes after a campaign that took a hard-line against crime and pledged to revive the economy. In recent weeks, Bolsonaro has faced massive street protests against his policies, a sharp decline in approval ratings and rising opposition in Congress.

Demonstrators carried posters and chanted slogans backing the government’s agenda, focusing on changes in the social security system and a package of anti-corruption laws promoted by Justice Minister Sergio Moro. Smaller groups protested against the so-called centrist parties, while a minority called for Congress and the Supreme Court to be shut down, local media reported.

Carlos Melo, a political scientist and professor at Insper university in Sao Paulo, said the rallies fell short of being large enough to sway the Congress to support the government’s agenda -- the intent of the organizers.

“The demonstrations weren’t resounding, they were moderate,” he said. “Therefore, Congress won’t change its posture because of the rallies.”

Administration officials were split on the value of the demonstrations. One group expected throngs of voters eager to reaffirm Bolsonaro’s decisive victory in October, while another feared a show of frustration with his government. Even though the president initially endorsed the idea, neither he nor any of his ministers were expected to take part.

Members of Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, were also torn about participating. Government allies, such as the libertarian pressure group MBL and the Partido Novo, stayed away amid concerns the rallies might turn into protests against institutions such as the legislature and the judiciary.

“We will not sign up to demands to close Congress or the Supreme Court or the rest of this anti-liberal agenda,” said Kim Kataguiri, a lawmaker from the center-right DEM party and one of the founders of the MBL. “We reject the demonization of parliament, the unwillingness to negotiate with deputies and the use of blogs and children to attack those who disagree.”

Frequent Demonstrations

Political demonstrations have become increasingly common in Brazil since massive protests broke out in 2013 over a sputtering economy and high-profile cases of corruption. However, it is rare for an administration to call its supporters to the streets.

In 1992, then-President Fernando Collor de Mello, weakened by graft allegations and unpopular economic policies, urged supporters to wear yellow and green. But tens of thousands instead wore black in protest.

According to Deysi Cioccari, a political science instructor at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo, calling a demonstration in support of a five-month-old administration shows “a certain desperation” for approval.

“For some allies of Bolsonaro, the campaign continues," Cioccari said. "The election was a paradigm shift, but his vote has already been confirmed. What’s missing now is the work to implement the platform on which he was elected."

(Recasts top of story with Bolsonaro’s comments.)

--With assistance from Josue Leonel and Marisa Castellani.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aline Oyamada in Sao Paulo at aoyamada3@bloomberg.net;Simone Iglesias in Brasília at spiglesias@bloomberg.net;Samy Adghirni in Brasilia Newsroom at sadghirni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann, Walter Brandimarte

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