How important is the vice president in Brazil?

. Jul 25, 2018
role vice president brazil michel temer Elected Vice President, Michel Temer took over in 2016. Photo: Lula Marques/AGPT

Back in 2014, then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden used one word to sum up his job: “a bitch.” In the U.S., though, the vice president has important responsibilities, such as serving as the president of the Senate and deciding votes when there’s a deadlock. Americans even hold vice presidential debates during election seasons, to assess who will be the future second in command. In Brazil, the office is pretty much ignored by the public, with virtually no institutional responsibilities other than being an emergency “just-in-case” option.

While vice presidential nominees are hardly the stars once the campaign starts, there is a race among the most competitive candidates to get the best running mates. So far, they have all failed to get their ideal name, which adds to the uncertainty of this year’s election.

Four years ago, all of the top dogs in the race had already decided who would be on their tickets by this point.</p> <p>Businessman Josué Gomes is this year&#8217;s belle of the ball. He has been coveted by parties that range from the <a href="">center-right</a> Geraldo Alckmin, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, all the way to the Workers&#8217; Party &#8211; including center-left Ciro Gomes in between. So far, though, none has managed to take Mr. Gomes to the altar.</p> <p>At the helm of textile company Coteminas, Mr. Gomes certainly has the pedigree for the job. He is the son of José Alencar, who served for eight years as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva&#8217;s loyal &#8211; albeit outspoken &#8211; vice president. Over the last weekend, Mr. Gomes seemed close to accepting Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s invitation. In the end, however, he said no.</p> <h2>The role of the vice president during the campaign</h2> <p>Vice presidential nominees usually don&#8217;t help candidates get more votes. They help orchestrate political alliances which produce coalitions with more free television and radio advertising airtime. That&#8217;s why Dilma Rousseff had Michel Temer as her running mate, in 2010 and 2014. On paper, the two couldn&#8217;t be more different &#8211; but Ms. Rousseff&#8217;s needed Mr. Temer&#8217;s mastodonic Brazilian Democratic Movement party to win those elections.</p> <p>The interest in Mr. Gomes is inspired by the same reasons. His support brings an <a href="">important ally</a>: the Party of the Republic (PR). While a constant feature in corruption scandals (and led by an ex-con), PR brings plenty of TV and radio airtime during the campaign and its structure could help a candidate&#8217;s grassroots efforts in some states.</p> <p>A good pick for vice president can also send the right message to financial markets &#8211; especially for <a href="">center-left candidates</a>, who are usually met with more skepticism. That was the case in 2002, when Lula chose Mr. Alencar, a right-wing businessman, to show that his days as a far-left radical were over.</p> <p>Such a vice presidential nominee has been a <a href="">missing part</a> of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s campaign. The far-right candidate has already failed to get his plans A, B, and C. After failing to entice PR and a retired Army general, Mr. Bolsonaro invited lawyer Janaina Paschoal, who became a celebrity within far-right circles after writing the legal instrument that kicked-off Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s 2016 impeachment. But Ms. Paschoal&#8217;s name was met with resistance by supporters after she shrugged off comparisons between herself and a known <a href="">torturer of the military regime</a>.</p> <p>So far, only two candidates have already found their VPs &#8211; both from small far-left parties, known for running without signing any alliances.</p> <h2>Vice presidents who took office</h2> <p>Before plotting against Dilma Rousseff to take her seat, Brazil&#8217;s incumbent President Michel Temer wrote Ms. Rousseff complaining that his role as vice president was largely &#8220;decorative.&#8221; History, however, shows that these men have often been pushed (or, in Mr. Temer&#8217;s case, pushed himself) into the limelight.</p> <p>Of Brazil&#8217;s 37 presidents, eight of them took the job after being elected vice president &#8211; for various reasons: death, resignation or impeachment. Since Brazil&#8217;s democratization, in 1985, three VPs have already taken office: José Sarney (1985, after the death of Tancredo Neves, prior to his inauguration), Itamar Franco (1992, after Fernando Collor&#8217;s impeachment), and Michel Temer (2016, after Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s eviction from office).</p> <p>Before the military dictatorship, vice presidents ran in an election of their own, independent from the presidential race. That created strange pairs in office, as the chosen VP could be from another coalition. That happened in the 1950s and 1960s, when leftist João Goulart won back-to-back vice presidential races, serving under two different presidents: Juscelino Kubitschek and Jânio Quadros. The latter would resign, leading Mr. Goulart to the top office until 1964 when he was deposed by the military.</p> <p>Despite being largely ignored by the electorate, vice presidents have been central to Brazil&#8217;s recent political history.

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Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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