BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing Social Liberal Party opened disciplinary proceedings against 19 of its lawmakers on Tuesday, including Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, in an ongoing battle for control of Brazil’s second largest party in Congress.
The lawmakers could be suspended and lose their seats for deposing Delegado Waldir, the party’s chief whip in the lower house, and replacing him with Eduardo Bolsonaro, against the wishes of the PSL leadership.
The rift risks leaving the president with no party base in Congress and undermines his ability to get his legislative proposals approved. At stake is a large campaign war chest for next year’s local elections.
The bitter dispute came to a head after President Bolsonaro called on the PSL two weeks ago to open its books for audit, and days later, the federal police searched the offices and homes of party founder Luciano Bivar in an electoral fraud probe.
The small party surged from nowhere to become the second largest in the Brazilian Congress by serving as the platform for Bolsonaro’s successful presidential run last year. With 53 seats in the lower house, the PSL will have access to more than 390 million reais ($95.8 million) in public campaign funds in 2022.
Bivar and other PSL leaders, such as Senator Major Olimpio, have opposed Bolsonaro’s bid to take over the party and are fighting back.
Besides seeking to suspend Eduardo Bolsonaro and 18 other lawmakers who sided with him, the party plans to remove him as PSL president for Sao Paulo and also his brother Senator Flavio Bolsonaro as its head in Rio de Janeiro, Olimpio told reporters.
By midday, a group of lawmakers siding with the Bolsonaros had obtained a court injunction suspending the party’s move to punish them, one of the lawmakers, Congresswoman Bia Kicis, said in a post on Twitter.
While it was still unclear who would win control over the PSL, President Bolsonaro’s chances of confirming his son Eduardo as Brazil’s ambassador to the United States have evaporated amid the bruising political storm.
Bolsonaro said on Tuesday he preferred that Eduardo stayed in Brazil to deal with the party crisis.
“In my opinion, (the best) is that he stays in Brazil … to pacify his party and pick up the pieces so to speak,” he told reporters during a visit in Tokyo.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Bernadette Baum)