Brazil's presidential elections this October will be the most consequential since the return of democracy in 1985. The election pits the most unashamedly boorish leader, right-wing incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, against the left’s most enduring brand, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The heart of Brazil's political mess lies in the “Centrão,” or the Big Middle, an amalgam of political parties with no discernible principles or loyalties, only ambitions and appetites. Whoever takes office on Jan. 1 faces a familiar Faustian bargain: cut a deal with a fractious legislature dominated by this alliance of opportunists, or go it alone and risk scuttling governability.
The U.S. Congress spends just 2.3 percent of total discretionary funds on pork barrel projects in Brazil. In Brazil, under opaque rules penned by the Centrão, lawmakers control proportionately five times that amount of pork. Bolsonaro has proven especially vulnerable to the CentRão,