Michel Temer’s MDB party and its influence in post-dictatorship Brazil

. Mar 21, 2019
President Michel Temer arrested corruption car wash operation mdb party Michel Temer and his acolytes. All are under investigation. All but one have been arrested.

Less than three months after leaving the president’s office, Michel Temer found himself being pulled up by federal marshals and placed under arrest. When the news broke, the sparse details given by law enforcement made it difficult to know exactly what motivated the arrest. Not because Mr. Temer is an example of honesty, rather due to the sheer number of criminal investigations against him. Mr. Temer is targeted by ten inquiries, all investigating corruption-related crimes—it was difficult to know exactly which accusation he was being arrested for.

Besides the former president, the Federal Police also arrested Mr. Temer’s former Minister of Mines and Energy, Wellington Moreira Franco. The pair were among the top brass of what was the most powerful political party in post-dictatorship Brazil, at least until the 2018 election: the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, or MDB.

</p> <p>The MDB is the party with the largest amount of municipal chapters, which gives it <a href="">unparalleled reach</a> and helps explain why the group controls so many local mayorships—1,028 out of 5,570 nationwide. Governability has always passed through the MDB party; no Brazilian president to date has been able to effectively govern without their support. Fernando Collor and Dilma Rousseff tried to buck the trend and ended up impeached. Lula also tried for a while—but had to bribe Congress to assemble a majority, which nearly cost him his term. Jair Bolsonaro has not done many favors to the party, but hasn&#8217;t bothered them that much, either.</p> <p>It is hard to find a major corruption scandal at the federal level without the fingerprints of the MDB all over it. Federal prosecutor Eduardo El Hage affirmed that &#8220;in any government agency with MDB influence, there is the potential for spurious gains.&#8221; No fewer than 15 members of Michel Temer&#8217;s cabinet have either been arrested or placed under investigation. One of them had BRL 51 million stashed inside travel bags.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-large wp-image-14999"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="615" src="" alt="President Michel Temer arrested corruption car wash operation mdb party" class="wp-image-14999" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1086w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Moreira Franco, Eliseu Padilha, and Michel Temer</figcaption></figure> <h2>The history of the MDB</h2> <p>The <a href="">MDB is not an easy party to define</a>. It was created during the dictatorship years as the military-sanctioned opposition—the only adversarial party the regime allowed to exist. The generals wanted to give the impression of ruling a well-functioning democracy, even if the game was heavily rigged in their favor. The MDB became a sort of Noah’s Ark for politicians not aligned with the military. This created a party with leaders from all different types of ideological backgrounds and convictions, from communists to conservatives.</p> <p>It the future, this trait made it easier for the MDB to cozy up to whatever party happened to be in power.</p> <p>In the 1980s, more parties were allowed to exist—and this is when the MDB’s metamorphosis began. In 1982, it incorporated the center-right Popular Party. The move was a bit of a Trojan horse, as it brought in numerous politicians who, catering to popular opinion, wanted to appear to distance themselves from the military when they had historically supported it. Another two factors also helped shape the MDB into what it is now.</p> <p>The first occurred in 1985, when &#8220;communist parties&#8221; were finally made legal again. Left-leaning politicians quit the MDB to form their own groups. And finally, during the 1988 <a href="">constituent assembly</a>, another wing (also more to the left) defected from the MDB to form the current Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).</p> <p>This left the party with more pragmatic politicians—what we call “professional politicians.” It is what allows the MDB to be an integral part of both PSDB and Workers’ Party administrations. The party moves according to waves of public opinion and clings on to crucial roles in the government no matter what. It helped elect Dilma Rousseff twice, but once her approval rates became abysmal, the party has announced its rupture from the government—while still holding on to the vice-presidency.</p> <h2>Adaptability and cronyism</h2> <p>The MDB epitomizes adaptability in politics. &#8220;We&#8217;ve never had ideological unity, or well-defined economic views,&#8221; admitted Mr. Moreira Franco—one of the MDB members arrested today. If Brazil were to become a communist regime tomorrow, then the party would support the proletarian revolution.</p> <p>The party started going down the path to cronyism during the days of the generals. At the time, the president, governors, and mayors of state capitals were not democratically elected. So, the MDB focused its actions on small urban areas—where cash-for-vote schemes remains a genuine phenomenon. After the country became a democracy again, the MDB became the broker of parliamentary majorities—a dog whistle term for horse trading. In the 1980s, it became notable for trading votes during the constitutional debates for TV and radio concessions. It is not a coincidence that in many states, the most powerful media groups are linked to <a href="">political dynasties</a>.</p> <p>In more recent times, the party&#8217;s modus operandi was trading political support for executive positions within the government. During the Lula years, the MDB controlled institutions with a combined budget of BRL 240 billion. Political scientist Carlos Alberto de Almeida, author of books about voting behavior in Brazil, has compared the MDB to the average Brazilian voter. &#8220;It is the party of ambiguity, of accommodation. Like Brazilian voters, it doesn&#8217;t act based on ideology, but rather in favor of who gives them an immediate advantage,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>A former senator once told me that the only thing that changes from one administration to the next is the size of the MDB&#8217;s fiefdom—not whether or not they&#8217;ll be in the government. &#8220;Sooner or later, their support is necessary.&#8221;</p> <p>That&#8217;s why the arrest of Michel Temer and his acolytes could be so explosive. If they decide to collaborate with investigators, they could very well implode Brazil&#8217;s political establishment.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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