Members of Brazil's "Big Center"
big center brazil 2018 election coalitions

Members of Brazil’s “Big Center”

Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori once called Brazil “the most anti-partisan country of the world.” That is particularly true today, as dissatisfaction with Brazilian political parties reaches record-setting levels with the electorate blaming corrupt politicians for the recession. But this rejection hasn’t stopped presidential hopefuls from engaging in the active courtship of a group called the centrão, or the “Big Center,” even if this front of mid-sized parties represents the very concept of the establishment.

In a presidential race where candidates are bending over backward to present themselves as outsiders, why does the “Big Center” matter so much?

As is often the case in Brazil’s political system, ideological labels are misleading. Despite what the name of the group might indicate, the “Big Center” is by no means made of moderate, middle-of-the-road parties. Basically, the front is a loose coalition of conservative forces, dating back to the Constitutional Assembly of 1986-1988.

At that point in time, the &#8220;Big Center&#8221; was a coalition set up to prevent what they saw as a &#8220;left-wing wave&#8221; from creating a welfare state that would cripple the young democracy&#8217;s finances. </span></p> <hr /> <h2><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-6553" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1-1024x426.jpg" alt="big center brazil congress politics 2018 election" width="1024" height="426" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1-1024x426.jpg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1-300x125.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1-768x319.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1-610x254.jpg 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/big-center-brazil-congress-politics-2018-election-1.jpg 1400w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></h2> <hr /> <h2>Always in power</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, Brazilian conservatives are usually not hardcore ideologues, but pragmatists who are willing to negotiate with any president in exchange for pork barrelling benefits. In the Constitutional Assembly, they were key allies of the then-President José Sarney, a conservative, giving him a fifth year in office and helping him to prevail against the more progressive branch of his Brazilian Democratic Movement party (MDB). </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Many politicians from the &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; however, also offered their support to Mr. Sarney&#8217;s reformist successors, such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The &#8220;Big Center&#8221; did not set the tone of Mr. Cardoso&#8217;s nor Lula&#8217;s administrations. Actually, it often worked a roadblock to more audacious reforms. The Brazilian political system has many veto points, powerful vested interests that want to keep their privileges. Nonetheless, that group of parties was indispensable to ensure the congressional support those presidents needed.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-6551" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5-1024x321.png" alt="big center brazil congress politics 2018 election" width="1024" height="321" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5-1024x321.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5-300x94.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5-768x241.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5-610x191.png 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-yOon5.png 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <h2>The &#8220;Big Center&#8221; in the 2018 presidential race</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil currently has 28 political parties represented in Congress. While their names change a lot, as they&#8217;re frequently &#8220;rebranding,&#8221; their leaders and their way of doing business remain the same. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nowadays, the &#8220;Big Center&#8221; includes the following parties: the Democrats <a href="https://istoe.com.br/uma-nova-agenda-para-camara/">party</a>, the Progressives party, the Brazilian Republican Party, and the Solidarity party. Their most important asset in the 2018 presidential campaign is bringing more free television and radio airtime for candidates. In Brazil, the law dictates that media with public concessions must broadcast ads from political parties during the campaign season, and the time is divided up according to the each party&#8217;s number of seats in the House. </span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-6574" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV-1024x358.png" alt="big center brazil 2018 election coalitions" width="1024" height="358" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV-1024x358.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV-300x105.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV-768x269.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV-610x214.png 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/export-uv3hV.png 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Traditionally, these television and radio ads have been </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">the</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> key source of information for millions of voters. There is some debate as to whether social media is changing this pattern, but we must remember that one-third of Brazilians still do not have access to the internet, especially in the North and the Northeast. This gap matters a lot in a national election.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The &#8220;Big Center&#8221; was courted by nearly all of the leading candidates – far-right Jair Bolsonaro and center-left Ciro Gomes, for instance, fought tooth and nail to settle a deal with them – but Geraldo Alckmin, of the center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party, eventually won their support in what was a major victory for his troubled campaign. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s rivals tried to undermine the possible effects of support from &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; calling the parties that form the group &#8220;an example of everything that is wrong with Brazilian politics.&#8221; While that&#8217;s not a bad description, the truth is they all would have liked to have the &#8220;Big Center&#8221; in their corner. This is one of the big dilemmas that anyone who wants to change the political system must face.

Read the full story NOW!

OpinionJul 31, 2018

Tags: - -

BY Mauricio Santoro

Santoro holds a Ph.D. in Political Science. He is currently Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of International Relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro