By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Senate was due to vote on Tuesday on a presidential decree that has put President Jair Bolsonaro at odds with his own party and added to the confusion that has been the hallmark of the leader’s five months in office.
The right-wing firebrand was voted into office on an anti-corruption platform. It included revamping his cabinet to put the financial operations control office known as COAF under Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a former judge who jailed many politicians for kickbacks in the Car Wash scandal.
Lawmakers in the lower chamber of Congress last week approved the temporary decree that reduced the number of ministries to 22 from 29, but they kept the COAF out of Moro’s hands by restoring it to the Economy Ministry.
Bolsonaro’s PSL party in the Senate intends to restore the original clause putting the COAF on Moro’s watch. But if it succeeds in doing so that means the decree must go back to the lower house for another vote, where it could be rejected and put Bolsonaro’s entire reorganization at risk.
The decree must pass Congress before it expires on June 3, in which case the executive branch would revert to where it was before Bolsonaro’s changes.
Bolsonaro has asked the Senate to approve the decree as it was received from the lower house – with COAF remaining under the Economy Ministry. That would avoid his government being thrown into a crisis requiring a major reshuffle that would increase doubts that he can win support for an ambitious pension reform bill – the cornerstone of his economic agenda.
Major Olimpio, the leader of Bolsonaro’s party in the Senate, insists that the COAF must be handed to Moro as a tool for tracking money laundering in funds moving through the banking system.
Olimpio told Reuters on Monday that he had the backing of 44 of the 81 senators to approve that change after pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations on Sunday in Brazil’s largest cities made clear that it was a priority for his supporters.
“The main demand at the demonstrations was that the COAF should be Moro’s, and there was more support for that than for pension reform,” he said.
Lower house lawmakers, who were targeted by demonstrators for obstructing Bolsonaro’s conservative agenda, are not expected to be in any hurry to pass the decree before June 3 if it comes back to them for final approval.
(Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)