Jair Bolsonaro was known for ignoring basic political calculations when making decisions. In opposing vaccination or organizing attacks on institutions, the President clung to the principles of loyalty and survival instincts, ignoring the damage he could inflict from the failure of these maneuvers.
The same logic leads to the mess that Bolsonaro got into when he promised to raise the salaries of only police officers in 2022. With little money in his pocket, the president has chosen to pander to an important (albeit limited) pillar of his political base at the cost of discontent that spills over into the wider federal civil service.
Several categories of civil servants have taken advantage of the government’s clumsy move to express dissatisfaction and demand a similar increase. With a shutdown forecast for Tuesday (18), these groups intend to wall up Bolsonaro and threaten to cause embarrassment in highly visible services such as the activities of the tax office in ports and airports.
It is too early to assess the possible damage that mobilization could cause to the government, which will depend on the cohesion of employees and the headache that the break could cause to the population. The actions, however, already show that Bolsonaro’s political impulses create more difficulties than direct benefits in an election year.
The president is running a deregulated balance sheet for this last leg of the term. With a modest portfolio of accomplishments and a tight budget, Bolsonaro prefers to invest his few financial and political resources into the loyalty of part of his base. The aim is to keep some chance in this year’s campaign, even if these moves are not enough to create a majority in the short term.
There is deep symbolism in the promise made to the police. By prioritizing these categories, Bolsonaro intends to reiterate the idea that he values law and order, an image he explored in the 2018 campaign. In addition, he is trying to lighten the weight of his apparent efforts to weaken the work of the federal police. .
Other possible motives are more obscure, though plausible. If Bolsonaro continues to insinuate that if he loses, he will challenge the election results, the goodwill of the security forces will be decisive.
The generosity of the federal government could also spur military police pressure on governors for such adjustments. Such a scenario could potentially create tensions within the states, which would strengthen the ties of these agents to the Bolsonaro.
The political choice of the president was obvious. Just two months ago, Bolsonaro announced that in 2022 he would increase the salary of “all federal employees without exception.” Everything changed in December. Due to the limited budget, the government realized that it could only give a residual increase for the entire civil service, or a more pronounced percentage for a certain segment.
The choice was up to the president, but there was a full operation to make the business viable. Minister Paulo Guedes (Economics) approved a reserve of 1.7 billion reais to increase the categories indicated by Bolsonaro, and the ruling base in Congress approved the proposal.
Now Bolsonaro could succumb to pressure and extend the exemption to other categories, but he would not have enough money for this. You can also go to increase the number of police officers by hiring opposition from other government employees. The red button would be to cancel the reorganization, but even then the president would not get rid of the awkwardness that he himself created. It will be difficult to come out of this episode unscathed.