Jair Bolsonaro wants to create a new party. That wouldn’t be easy, though

. Nov 05, 2019
jair bolsonaro new political party President Bolsonaro prays in a House session. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

During the weekend, President Jair Bolsonaro said there is “an 80-percent chance” he will leave the Social Liberal Party. This declaration is the latest chapter in the fallout between the president and the party’s chairman, Congressman Luciano Bivar. The two have fought tooth and nail for control over the party’s coffers—which will be boosted by a payment of over BRL 200 million next year from a public campaign fund.

But beyond just leaving his current political group, Mr. Bolsonaro said he desires to create a party of his own, given that independent candidacies are illegal in Brazil.

</p> <p>At this point, though, it would be a stretch to say that the president and his allies would be able to create a new party from scratch, in time to be eligible for the 2020 municipal elections.</p> <p>These mayoral and council elections in Brazil set the stage for national races two years later. In a country <a href="">as vast as Brazil</a>, candidates rely on allied elected officials in isolated corners for grassroots engagement.&nbsp;</p> <h2>How to create a new party in Brazil</h2> <p>The first step to create a political party in Brazil is to register an establishment request at an electoral notary office, with at least 101 signatures supporting it. At this point, a two-year window is opened, during which the party must jump through the following hoops:</p> <ul><li>Attract the support of at least 0.5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election. Between 2018 and 2022, the required number of signatures is 491,967. These voters must be spread across at least nine states; in each, the party must get the support of at least 0.1 percent of voters.</li><li>Then, each signature must be validated by electoral notaries, involving a lengthy process of comparing each written mark on the petition to existing electoral records. As many people change their signatures over time, thousands are lost in this step.</li><li>If the party still has the correct number of petitioners, the Superior Electoral Court will then analyze the application.</li><li>If justices don&#8217;t find any legal objection to the application, the party is officially created.</li></ul> <p>But in order to be on the ballot, this green light must come at least six months before election day. In the case of the 2020 municipal race, that means early April, or five months from now.</p> <p>In 2011, the Social Democratic Party—considered a paramount example of quickness—took seven months from start to finish. In some cases, it can take years. Former senator and presidential candidate Marina Silva needed four years to make her environmentalist Rede party a reality.</p> <p>There are currently 75 parties in the process of being created. However, only 16 have been able to get over 1,000 signatures—and only one is in the final stage. The so-called Popular Unity (UP) has gotten two favorable votes in the Superior Electoral Court—but a third justice asked for more time to analyze the process.</p> <h2>What would Bolsonaro gain from having his own party?</h2> <p>In over three decades in politics, Jair Bolsonaro is anything but loyal partisan, having switched allegiances eight times since 1989. However, as president, Mr. Bolsonaro has understood the need of having a grip on his own political group.</p> <p>According to Brazil&#8217;s rules, the publicly-financed electoral fund is split among parties according to their number of seats in Congress. And all of that money is controlled by just a handful of chairpeople, who decide which candidates will receive more funding—and therefore be more competitive.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro has never hidden his intentions of only benefiting politicians who show blind trust in him and his sons. By controlling his own party, he would actively help shape Brazil&#8217;s next congressional races.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Obstacles for Bolsonaro&#8217;s new party</h2> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro believes he could sway about 20 of the Social Liberal Party&#8217;s 53 members of Congress to follow him. However, that would be easier said than done.&nbsp;</p> <p>Brazil&#8217;s electoral legislation has several instruments to restrict party change from elected officials. Today, only three reasons are admitted (in all other cases, the politician loses their seat):</p> <ul><li>Grave persecution from party leaders;</li><li>A substantial change in the program (which didn&#8217;t happen within Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s current party);</li><li>Moves within a 30-day window in electoral years (which, for federal congresspeople, would only happen in 2022).</li></ul> <p>The creation of a new party used to be a part of this, but it was dropped as new parties began <a href="">sprouting</a> at an unbelievable pace over the past decade. (A total of <a href="">30 parties are represented in Congress</a> today—more than anywhere in the world.)</p> <p>That leaves the president&#8217;s supporters with only one option: alleging &#8220;grave persecution&#8221; and battling in courts for the right to keep their seats. That would certainly be an expensive and uncertain move, however.</p> <p>And even if they do get to keep their seats, their share of the electoral fund would remain with the party in which they were elected. So, even if everything goes Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s way, he wouldn&#8217;t get the money he&#8217;s seeking in the first place.

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