OPINION: Brazil's oil sector is doing better than most. In a successful half-decade, Petrobras has come through the Car Wash corruption scandal and put in place a system of governance that has allowed the company to rebuild its credibility while deleveraging steadily.

Oil and gas production are steadily rising as Petrobras and its international partners apply advanced deep-water production solutions to get the best out of the technically challenging pre-salt fields.

No wonder then the state-controlled company has been reaping record profits and rewarding shareholders with bumper dividends.

Oil companies everywhere are coming under intense scrutiny but in Latin America, the tendency to drag national oil companies into the political arena is stronger than anywhere.

The main target for criticism has been the company's market-led pricing policy.

Brazil's right-wing populist leader President Jair Bolsonaro came to power promising to give his Chicago-school economy czar Paulo Guedes a free hand.

However, Bolsonaro has been hiring and firing Petrobras bosses and energy ministers at a dizzy rate, berating and blaming them for price hikes, yet allowing those policies to stand unchanged.

Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque was the latest to fall on his sword, leaving economy ministry official Adolfo Sachsida to replace him.

Brazilian elections are approaching and Bolsonaro is fearful that Workers Party populist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will succeed in channelling growing public anger against the incumbent.

Bolsonaro has been gaining on Lula da Silva in recent polls but there was an air of desperation in his latest moves on fuel prices.

The former army reservist who has polarised Brazil may be running out of people to blame. Petrobras investors may worry that he will resort to that most populist mechanism of all.... price controls.

(This is an Upstream opinion article)