By Anthony Boadle and Eduardo Simões
BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro launched a new political party on Thursday, the Alliance for Brazil (APB), under the banner of fighting graft and advancing Christian values, a breakaway move that could fragment his base.
Hundreds of excited supporters gathered at a Brasilia hotel to listen to Bolsonaro after he led the party’s first meeting, drawing up its statutes and appointing its executive committee — powers he lacked in the right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL).
“We have the opportunity today to unite all Brazilians of good faith for the future of our fatherland,” he said in a speech at the launch.
The move to ditch the PSL is a risky one for the former army captain, who rode a wave of conservative sentiment in Brazil to win last year’s election. It may take months to formalise the new party and deadlines loom for next year’s elections.
Yet Bolsonaro’s relationship with the PSL leadership reached breaking point in recent months as they fought for control over its sizeable campaign funds. The party emerged from obscurity last year to become the second-largest in Brazil’s Congress after Bolsonaro made it the vehicle for his presidential run.
The APB announced on Thursday that Bolsonaro would be the party’s president and his eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, will be its first vice president. The party will need to collect some 500,000 signatures by the end of April to be able to register for the municipal elections in October 2020.
“It’s a bit kamikaze what they’re trying to do,” said Daniel Falcao, a professor of electoral law at the University of Sao Paulo. “I don’t think it’s impossible, but it will take a lot of work to get the signatures in time and get them analyzed.”
Bolsonaro aims to mobilise his enthusiastic social media following for the petition, but under Brazil’s current electoral laws, the signatures have to be collected physically on paper.
If the TSE electoral court does not allow digital signatures, Bolsonaro told reporters on Thursday, the APB will not run in next year’s campaign because there will not be enough time to gather signatures, verify them and register the party.
Organizers of his new party expect grassroots support from many in Brazil’s fast-growing Evangelical Christian population, which turned out to vote for Bolsonaro en masse last October, drawn by his vow to stop moves to legalize abortion, gay marriage and the use of marijuana.
Bolsonaro has said he hopes a majority of the PSL’s 53 lawmakers and three senators will follow him to the APB.
The party’s statutes includes commitment to defend life from the moment of conception and legislate the right to carry firearms to protect private property.
(Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Brad Haynes, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)