Brazilian political parties don’t mean anything
“We are not left-wing, right-wing or centrist.” These are bizarre words for a political leader. Not for minister Gilberto Kassab, the chairman of PSD (Social Democratic Party) — a group that is allied with literally anyone that holds an office in Brazil. In a way, they are the symbol of the unparalleled nothingness that dominates Brazilian party politics. Brazil has the most fractured Congress in the world because very few parties are more than a gang of thugs that act together to blackmail the incumbent president, whoever that is. And that is going to get even worse.
In the current political crisis, these meaningless parties are in charge like never before. At the same they hold key positions in President Dilma Rousseff’s shocking cabinet, many of their members of Congress deliver speeches day and night against her troubled administration. At a time she plays the fiscal conservative cutting billions from the budget, they suggest high spending policies so she has to deal with the unpopularity of vetoes. Of course they can pull back — at the inviting price of jobs for their friends and associates and maybe some earmarks in the future.
It is true that happened before, but Rousseff is Brazil’s first president to be reelected in a dead heat election. She is the first president to face protests even before her second inauguration. She is also the first president to appoint ministers that are clearly inapt, just for the sake of keeping those same political parties happy enough not to leave her without any support in Congress. That is probably why no one was surprised to see not left-wing, right-wing or centrist Kassab get one of the juiciest jobs in Brasilia, as the minister who negotiates initiatives with mayors.
The biggest non-ideological party in the ruling coalition is PMDB (Brazilian Democracy Movement Party). There isn’t a single scandal in which at least one member of theirs isn’t involved. Well, not only they hold seven ministers, but the speaker of the House, PMDB’s Eduardo Cunha, has become a sort of a prime-minister and a leader of the opposition. They also hold the presidency of the Senate, with highly controversial (to say the least) Renan Calheiros. And now their main leader, Vice-President Michel Temer, is responsible to whip votes for Rousseff in Congress.
More than ever it is all down to individuals, not to political parties. The most well structured and representative ones, Rousseff’s PT (Worker’s Party) and leading opposition at PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) have made that possible by losing their grip with society. The reason why Brazilian political parties don’t matter today lies on the fact neither PT nor PSDB broke away from the non-ideological parties when they held the Presidency. That has made most Brazilians believe that there isn’t really any difference between them.
PT, which was a vibrant organization that debated policies with a wide range of activists, fell into denial after plunging in a series of corruption scandals and accepted becoming the shadow of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. PSDB, born as a social-democrat stronghold with intellectuals and forward thinking politicians, is now hostage to tea party like groups. Twenty years ago, experts believed PT was a leftist party and PSDB was a center of left one. Now, to be generous, PT is in the center and PSDB is center of right. Who could tell the difference?
Since the two leading parties became alike, the satellites were destroyed. The most recent example comes from a vote in Congress to regulate outsourcing to basically every job there is in the country. Traditional center of left parties decided to champion that very bill to do some blackmailing of their own (although some surely wanted just to score some points with business.) Even for Brazil’s fractured political system, that was a great shock. But it was also a great example of how political parties no longer filter the interests of unions, business, teachers, doctors.
The 2018 presidential elections are quite distant, but the first signs show a dysfunctional political process until then, which could lead to a maverick winning over the country by rejecting the influence of political parties. As the experiences from the thirties show, getting rid of those institutions is a fast track to autocrats to gain power. Even if they say they are not in the left, in the right or in the center.