2018: renewal in Brazilian politics? Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr
Will 2018 be the year that Brazilian politics are renewed

2018: renewal in Brazilian politics? Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

Brazilians don’t trust their institutions anymore. According to Latinobarómetro, a non-profit organization that conducts political surveys in Latin America, Brazilians’ appreciation of democracy is down to just 32 percent. Only 1 percent of people trust political parties “a lot.” Congress is appreciated by a mere 3 percent of people. And unsurprisingly, Brazilians think that corruption is our biggest problem.

Our sitting politicians are not the most popular bunch, and voters are craving change. A recent survey has shown that 55 percent are willing to vote for someone who has no experience running for office. And 72 percent believe that Brazil will experience a major political renewal in the October general elections.

All of these factors suggest that a wave of outsiders will come, and political renewal will be at an all-time high. Well, think again. According to the Inter-union Parliamentary Advisory Department (DIAP), an interest group dedicated to studying Congress, renewal in the House could be as low as 30 percent – which would be, by far, the lowest rate since Brazil became a democracy in 1985.

In 2017, Congress approved a set of electoral reforms that were essentially aimed at benefiting those already in office. Restrictions to funding options, a reduced campaigning season, and stricter rules for new, smaller parties will pose major hurdles to emerging political forces. Congressmen pushed for those changes not only to retain power, but also to maintain legal privileges that come with an elected office.

In Brazil, politicians at the federal level can only be tried and prosecuted by the Supreme Court, which is known for its slow pace and benevolence towards white-collar criminals. As 238 congressmen and senators are currently under investigation, they have extra motivation to run. “When more politicians run for reelection, renewal rates go down due to the immense advantage of those already in power,” wrote Antônio Augusto de Queiroz, a director at DIAP.

Unfair competition

Brazil’s electoral framework gives parties the right to free airtime on television and radio stations (it’s not actually free, but the check goes to taxpayers, not parties). That time is shared according to each party’s number of House seats, meaning that new parties have mere seconds to spread their messages. When considering congressional elections, which need heavy exposure from the largest possible number of candidates, such limitations could be devastating – especially in impoverished areas, where these traditional medias are sometimes the only means of communication.

After prohibiting companies from donating to candidates, Congress approved a fund to finance campaigns – with taxpayer money. Once again, the division will be based on congressional representation, and new, smaller parties will get only scraps of those received by big political families, like President Michel Temer’s MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement).

Some parties will try to compensate that unbalanced competition through social media. New political movements will try to profit from the fact that Brazil has the fourth largest population of Internet users on the globe. Indeed, surveys show that people will rely on social media to get the information they need to choose their candidate.

That entails a new problem, though: the risk of social bubbles and the spread of fake news. The latter has become such a preoccupation to Brazilian authorities that the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) announced it would criminalize creating and spreading fake news.

But not even social media might be capable of nullifying the advantage owned by incumbents. According to DIAP, Brazil’s new Congress will be conservative (both on values and on economics) and pro budget cuts. In a nutshell: a Congress that would be a dream for a president like Michel Temer.

PowerFeb 21, 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.