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By Anthony Boadle and Maria Carolina Marcello

Brazil's Congress re-elects leaders in victory for Lula

President of Brazil's Federal Senate Rodrigo Pacheco votes during a session to elect the new senate president in Brasilia, Brazil February 1, 2023. REUTERS/Ton Molina

Brazil's Congress on Wednesday re-elected the leaders of both chambers who were backed by leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a victory that will help him advance his legislative agenda and curb the influence of his right-wing opponents.

Senator Rodrigo Pacheco defeated an ally of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, winning 49 votes in the 82-member chamber to continue as Senate president.

President of Brazil's Federal Senate Rodrigo Pacheco is greeted after being re-elected as the senate president in Brasilia, Brazil February 1, 2023. REUTERS/Ton Molina

Lula's center-left coalition celebrated the vote count that would allow his government to push through constitutional amendments, such as those needed to change Brazil's tax regime and create a new fiscal anchor to balance government accounts.

Pacheco held his leadership job despite attempts made by Bolsonaro to back senator Rogerio Marinho. Bolsonaro, who had remained silent in reclusion in Florida, spoke by telephone on Monday to a meeting of his party, the Liberal Party (PL), to boost his former Cabinet minister's campaign.

In the lower house, Speaker Arthur Lira of the center-right Popular Party (PP) won re-election by a wide margin, with the support of Lula's Workers Party and its coalition partners, along with some of Bolsonaro's allies.

President of Brazil's Federal Senate Rodrigo Pacheco gestures after being re-elected as the senate president in Brasilia, Brazil February 1, 2023. REUTERS/Ton Molina

Lira, who won 464 votes in the 513-seat house, had been an ally of Bolsonaro, but was quick to recognize Lula's narrow election victory in October and congratulate him, starting a dialogue during the presidential transition.

Control of either chamber by the opposition could have hampered approval of Lula's priorities, starting with temporary decrees he has signed that extend social welfare payments for poor families and reduce taxes on fuels.

All legislation must cross Lira's desk to get started in Congress, including impeachment motions, which Bolsonaro allies are already planning against Lula.

In their victory speeches, both congressional leaders strongly defended Brazil's democratic system, which came under attack from Bolsonaro supporters who stormed government buildings on Jan. 8 calling for a military coup to restore their leader who left the country without conceding defeat by Lula.

Pacheco, who rejected Bolsonaro's criticism of Brazil's electronic voting system, said the divided country needs pacification and political harmony.

But he added: "Pacification does not mean remaining silent before anti-democratic acts," referring to the riots and calling for accountability.

Lira condemned the violence by Bolsonaro supporters.

"In today's Brazil there is no more space for those who attack the institutions that symbolize our democracy. This chamber will not accept, defend or endorse any act, speech or demonstration that violates democracy," he said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Maria Carolina Marcello, Ricardo Brito and Peter Frontini; Editing by Diane Craft and Grant McCool)

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