BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will quit his fractious right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL) and start a new one by March 2020, PSL lawmakers Daniel Silveira and Bia Kicis said on Tuesday after meeting with the president.
The PSL, which Bolsonaro joined as a vehicle to win the elections in October, is split down the middle over control of the party, though it is not clear how many of its 53 representatives and three senators will follow the president.
A meeting will be held on Nov. 21 to begin setting up the new party, which will be called Movimento pelo Brasil, or Movement for Brazil, Kicis told Reuters by telephone.
The split came to a head last month with an exchange of insults between the president and PSL founder Luciano Bivar, who has not wanted to hand over the reins to Bolsonaro and his sons.
At stake is 390 million reais ($94 million) in public campaign funds for municipal elections, an unprecedented war chest for the PSL, which rode Bolsonaro’s coattails to grow from a single lawmaker in Congress to the second-largest bench.
While senators, governors and mayors can freely switch parties, lower house lawmakers are subject to rules that bar them from continued access to the campaign funding if they swap parties.
“Several representatives plan to follow the president. We are prepared to lose the campaign funds because we want to found a new party to follow him,” Kicis said.
Bolsonaro needs to gather 500,000 signatures to start a new party, and his supporters are confident he can achieve that through social media, a tool that greatly aided his successful run for president last year.
One of the PSL’s three senators, Senator Soraya Thronicke from the farm state of Mato Grosso, told Reuters she has not made up her mind yet.
If she stayed in the PSL, only one senator would follow Bolsonaro, his son Flavio Bolsonaro.
The breakup of the PSL is not expected to affect Brazil’s economic reform agenda, which has ample backing in Congress.
But starting a new party could politically weaken Bolsonaro, who switched allegiances among eight parties during his 28 years in Congress before joining the PSL last year.
($1 = 4.1637 reais)
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, Anthony Boadle and Jake Spring; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)