Think of something absurd. In Brazilian politics there is a precedent. Especially when it comes to conciliate completely different interests. It is a big part of our mindset — and that includes those in office. The difference is that average Brazilians do it to avoid negativity and politicians, just to keep perks. Of course it isn’t such a rare thing today. But it was Brazil where people agreed to shout “no political parties” in their biggest demonstrations in 21 years.
The one thing that seems to connect most of the 250,000 protesters on Monday is how little they care for party politics. They see no real boundaries between them. As a reporter who has worked with politics since 2004, I can say they are right on that. Politicians are so out of touch with Brazilians that an important poll conducted with protesters in São Paulo said 82% of them had no political preference. Their mayor and their president come from the Workers Party and their governor is from the arch-rivals Social Democrats — these two come from similar origins and have been polarising elections since 1994.
Just like the revolt against the police, the disbelief in Brazilian political parties had been cooking for very long. My first clear cut memory in that sense comes from 10 years ago. I was on Paulista Avenue, the main road for protests in Sao Paulo, on a day of national protests promoted by political parties and unions. They wanted to stop the now deceased Free Trade Zone of the Americas. I and my friends weren’t there because of that. We and about 400 other alumni aimed at avoiding a 32% increase in our tuition. In the end we failed. Miserably. Political parties didn’t care.
All they wanted was that we dropped by their protest for five minutes. They didn’t seem to mind on if we agreed with them or not — they took us for granted. They only needed pictures with more people. In exchange they would lend us their sound equipment for our quest. When we were far away police did what they usually do — showed everyone the way out with their batons. On that day political parties and police did pretty much what was expected from them. But our discomfort showed there was something wrong with that ritual, and having no affiliation helped us understand that.
Over the years party politics have grown uglier and uglier in Brazil. In 2005, when the economy wasn’t doing so well, the administration of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was involved in a scandal of political support for money. At first it was supposed to hit a third of our 513 MPs, but final figures reduced these figures to about 40, including government ministers. Later on we found out the technology had been invented by the Social Democrats, who haven’t even been properly investigated — probably because they are not in power. Protests in both occasions were timid. Brazilians saw no difference.
Controversial politicians who dominate the vote in their region became as prominent in the administrations of the Workers Party as they had been with the Social Democrats. The speaker of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, is one of them. He is involved in dozens of corruption scandals, plays a key role for president Dilma Rousseff. He was the Minister of Justice under Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in the nineties. Cardoso had Michel Temer as his speaker. Temer is Rousseff’s deputy. The excuse is always the coalition presidentialism Brazilians neither understand nor embrace.
Hardcore supporters of the two main political parties have also been in complete denial for years. Instead of getting away of the controversial politicians, they want non-committed Brazilians to believe every allegation of corruption is an attempt to destabilize their leader’s administration. In Sao Paulo, where corruption investigations barely exist, Social Democrats refuse even criticism of the violent police operations that take place every month. They prefer to get cozy with the officers so they can have their endorsement in the following elections.
Brazilian politics are mostly led by figures and their inspiration, not by parties and their projects. Even the Workers Party, which seems to tick in a more complex manner, is in complete shambles if compared to most leftist groups in the world. Unlike Labour and German SPD, they didn’t debate their post-Soviet Union stance before electing their first president. They did it after they got to the presidential palace. Lula made his party shift to the middle without any discussion with those who voted for him. Part of the non-committed now are the orphans of his “politics with ethics” background.
They still managed to win the presidency again with little-known Rousseff because social programs adopted by Lula worked really well. Programs that weren’t planned for his campaign trail in 2002. Programs that were improved versions of what the Social Democrats had already done. No wonder youngsters had nothing to dream about until last week, because Brazilian political parties loved the idea they knew what people dreamed about — as if all those who protested yesterday would be somehow bound to them because they need a different kind of sound equipment.
All the protests come as big news to all the self-absorbed political mainstream parties, which could happily boast their “good times” in office until last week. Although Brazil surely improved in the last decades, the challenges are still too big for politicians to live on the improvements as if there were nothing else to do. Anyone who spends 30 minutes in the galleries of Congress on a Wednesday (no MP might show up on the other days) is certain that political parties aren’t buyable, have a history and don’t depend on individuals and lobbies to exist. That is plain wrong.
Although they might not be completely aware of all this, part of the protesters had those reasons to target political buildings on Monday. They vandalized Rio’s State Assembly, a place where political gangsters are more powerful than human rights activists. They attacked Sao Paulo State Palace, the residence of a governor who ignored the protests and the violent repression by his police. They took over the Brazilian Congress, a place where many MPs work three times a week to be paid US$ 10,000 and still get involved with corruption. Party politics are broken — that they do know.
For decades, the military dictatorship (1964-1985) forced political groups into a two-party system. That was Brazil’s make believe democracy for 21 years. It still takes its toil on our democracy. That is because leaders still seem to be much more important than sets of ideas — that is how politicians would stand out in the middle of the crowd then. As it became more economically viable, Brazil went on the road of two main streams. And so did the media, which has become dependent on analysis made by these people instead of engaging with society’s needs.
What the protesters showed on Monday is that if the political parties don’t know where they people are going with all these protests, which might become bigger day by day, the people know even less about where the political parties have taken them so far.