How political coalitions became a business in Brazil

. Jul 21, 2018
psdb alckmin coalitions brazil president Political coalitions are a lucrative business
psdb alckmin coalitions brazil president

Political coalitions are a lucrative business

In the late 1980s, political scientist Sérgio Abranches coined the expression “coalition presidentialism” to define Brazil’s political system. The concept highlights how fragmented the partisan system is. Brazil today has 35 parties – 25 of which have congressional representation. The Workers’ Party, which is by far the largest in the House, holds only 12 percent of seats.

Consequently, every president must form a coalition in order to govern. In 2009, former President Lula said: “in Brazil, Jesus would be forced to make a coalition with Judas if he wanted to govern.”

All around the world, coalitions are built by sharing power. Brazil’s peculiar electoral legislation, however, has turned coalitions into a very lucrative business – and also a major source of scandal.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian parties are entitled to a public electoral fund to finance their campaigns, as well as free airtime on television and radio &#8211; all paid for with taxpayer money. Both the fund and ad time during the campaign season are split among parties based on their representation in the House. With 12 percent of House seats, for instance, the Workers&#8217; Party gets 12 percent of the money and ad time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To enhance their reach and financial structure, candidates rely on broad coalitions that aren&#8217;t built on ideology. Let&#8217;s take a group of seven small parties which decided to act in 2018 as a united front &#8211; the so-called </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">centrão</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> (big center). These parties are the textbook example of how political parties can become commodities &#8211; alliances are formed with the highest bidder.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Over the past couple of weeks, the Big Center has been coveted by &#8211; and negotiated with &#8211; candidates at all points of the <a href="">political compass</a>, from Jair Bolsonaro (<a href="">far-right</a>), in the case of some individual parties of the group, to Geraldo Alckmin (center-right) and Ciro Gomes (<a href="">center-left</a>).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The highest bidder this time was <a href="">Geraldo Alckmin</a>. He has promised to give these parties a level of control of the political establishment like they&#8217;ve never had before. The Big Center will name Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s running mate, they will get the administration&#8217;s support (if Mr. Alckmin gets elected, of course) to elect the House Speaker and the Senate President. Perhaps more than ever, a president could be hostage to the quid pro quo of Congress. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Alckmin would hardly be the commander of his own administration. If he&#8217;s at odds with Congress, the Big Center can quickly try to impeach him. The group will, after all, hold the leadership in both congressional houses and will have the next guy in line for the presidency. It&#8217;s not like we&#8217;ve never seen this before …</span></p> <h2>United on the national level, not at state level</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">So far, Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s Social Democracy Party (PSDB) will run against the Big Center in nine states. The biggest battleground is the state of Minas Gerais, the second-largest state of Brazil, where Senator Antonio Anastasia (PSDB) will face Rodrigo Pacheco, a member of the Big Center&#8217;s Democrats party, for the governorship. Mr. Pacheco will be offered support in the race for the Senate &#8211; but there&#8217;s no guarantee of a settlement.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But the biggest problem between Mr. Alckmin and the Big Center will be in the Northeast. In that region, most of the Big Center parties are (confusingly) aligned with left-wing candidates, which are allied to Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s adversaries in the presidential race. That could pose a significant problem for Mr. Alckmin, due to his party&#8217;s historically bad performances in Brazil&#8217;s poorest region. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The deal with the Big Center was the only way Mr. Alckmin could energize his campaign &#8211; even if it means that he will have limited control of his own administration, in the case of a win. He hopes that having more television and radio time will be enough to get him over the line. It could be successful, but his alliance is also teaming up PSDB &#8211; the most-rejected party in Brazilian politics &#8211; with a group of traditional politicians who inspire little confidence in voters (and also include former inmates).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It&#8217;s a risky move &#8211; but it was not as if Geraldo Alckmin had a lot of options.

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