Polarization has dominated Brazilian politics

The 2014 presidential election was brutal. Candidates reached a level of aggression we were not accustomed to seeing in Brazilian politics. Fighting for re-election, Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff overused negative campaigning against her adversaries, saying they would actively work to “take food away from Brazilian tables.” In the runoff stage, Ms. Rousseff and her opponent, Aécio Neves of the center-right Social Democracy Party (PSDB), presented few proposals to avoid an economic crisis – choosing instead to rely on personal attacks to win votes.

The aftermath of such a bitter dispute could not be positive. In her victory speech, Ms. Rousseff denied that the country was divided and did little to offer an olive branch to her opponents. The reaction to the electoral results was even worse on the losing side. Mr. Neves said the president had won thanks to voter fraud, without the election showing the slightest indication of foul play. From that moment on, the Social Democracy Party did everything in its power to sabotage Dilma Rousseff’s second term.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This is not to say that Ms. Rousseff&#8217;s administration was not inept, but the truth remains that she had little chance of succeeding with a Congress willing to destroy any initiative put forward by the president. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That level of polarization, coupled with the worst economic recession on record, led to 2016&#8217;s controversial Congress-orchestrated impeachment of Ms. Rousseff &#8211; further dividing the country politically. The center-right called the Workers&#8217; Party a bunch of crooks, while the center-left called the PSDB coup mongers. How can dialogue prosper in this environment?</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Urban violence, economic problems, and the bitterness of the political discourse help explain why a rogue candidate such as Jair Bolsonaro could rise to </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/08/22/main-polls-brazil-presidential-race/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">pole position</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in this year&#8217;s election. Mr. Bolsonaro openly says he doesn&#8217;t know the first thing about economics and has defended that violence must be fought with </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/2017/10/18/brazil-rising-authoritarianism/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">more violence</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. </span></p> <h2>There is room for optimism</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It&#8217;s hard to be optimistic right now in Brazil. However, two gestures from the Workers&#8217; Party and the PSDB this week show that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel &#8211; and it&#8217;s not necessarily a train coming straight for us.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On Thursday, Senator Tasso Jereissati, the former chairperson of the PSDB, admitted in an </span><a href="https://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/eleicoes,nosso-grande-erro-foi-ter-entrado-no-governo-temer,70002500097"><span style="font-weight: 400;">interview</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> a laundry list of &#8220;memorable mistakes&#8221; made by his political party. He regretted calling the 2014 election into question and sabotaging Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s administration (which forced the party to embrace an economic agenda of increasing public spending and cutting taxes it simply doesn&#8217;t believe in). But the biggest mistake, in Mr. Jereissati&#8217;s opinion, was joining Michel Temer&#8217;s administration &#8211; the most unpopular in Brazilian democratic history.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On the same day, former governor of Bahia Jaques Wagner &#8211; a very influential member of the Workers&#8217; Party &#8211; also gestured towards the PSDB. He said that should PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin (who is polling at 9 percent) qualify for the runoff stage against Jair Bolsonaro, he would vote for Mr. Alckmin in a heartbeat. It might not sound like much, given the unlikelihood of that scenario, but a statement of that kind would never have been said a few years ago. Mr. Wagner also said that Brazil&#8217;s two major parties should rebuild bridges &#8211; and that he would gladly work toward this end.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is positive to see that, while Brazil&#8217;s major forces took the country to the edge of the abyss, they don&#8217;t seem willing to jump.

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OpinionSep 15, 2018

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.