We need to meet up at the Centre

A few notes from the translator:

PMDB — Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party)
PT — Partido dos Trabalhadores (Laborers Party)
Planalto — official workplace of the president of Brazil
Mensalão — in a precise translation, would mean big monthly payment.
Lava-Jato — translates as “Car Wash”; an ongoing federal investigation in Brazil.
STF — Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court)

We need to meet up at the Centre

The story of how we got to the impeachment and how to get out from here.

by Pedro Doria
translated by Coiote Flores from Precisamos nos reencontrar no centro

The two most destructive words in current political situation are coup [translator’s note: or scam] and exempt. They are destructive because of what they’ll lead to tomorrow. The scammer is a political pariah, could not be anything else. The exempt one, as the word suggests, is someone with no moral fiber to situate themselves in a moment of severity. Referring to one as a scammer or exempt deter the debate to continue after the high peak of crisis is gone. It falls among the unpardonable political standings. But scammer and exempt are unfair terms that fail to describe almost any one at this moment.

After this peak in our political crisis is gone such dialogue will be even more important. We need to regain the political Centre in Brazil. So called Centre is not a place for the undecided: the Centre [translator’s note: we might as well call it mid-ground] is where Left and Right acknowledge each other’s legitimacy. That’s where they sit together, negotiate and make arrangements to concede in some point to gain at another one. Politics work between Centre-Left and Center-Right. Radicals have a purpose: putting pressure on. But when only the radicals have a voice, politics stop.

But first, however, we must understand how we got here. And that’s not the story of a coup d’état. It’s a far sadder story. Ideology is not what has been defining the political game since 1985.

There is no conflict between awful communists and dreamy liberals, nor between one perverse elite against the oppressed people.

How brazilian politics works

The power of a representative, in a country of patrimonial tradition such as ours, is based on embodying the union (state). The health centre, the laying of paving on the streets, the job generating factory, all those exist because a representative decided to make it so. Voters from all across the country form lines asking their councilmen, their state representatives and national representatives for favors. That association, that notion that the State gives away when the representative wants, establishes their good relations with a considerable part of voting contingent. It’s as if they’re saying the State isn’t the one attending the citizen. The State offers benefits.

Congressmen have a problem: the campaigns that get them elected get more and more expensive. In order to maintain themselves in power or even to up themselves hierarchically, legislators must ensure their influence on their districts. To do so, one depends on those favors from the Executive: the factory, the laying of paving. Also, they need money from his Party and from where else (let us leave out corruption for personal gain).

The physiologic relation which most congressmen maintain with their voters and the high cost of the campaigns is directly connected to the large number of political parties in Brazil.

It starts with the Party Fund. Essentially, the State dedicates annually a considerable amount of money to be distributed among the parties. There is a minimum which each one gets in equal parts and the rest is distributed accordingly to the number of votes obtained for the Chamber of Representatives. The reason we have insignificant or merely popular figures running for presidency is that they produce votes, even if only for the mockery, which guarantees the existence of their small parties. Those who vote in a certain candidate as a mockery nourish this system. The Fund started out as an attempt to help financing campaigns, to ensure a corruption-free sustain of politics. It ended up feeding such corruption because there are no minimum barriers for the creation of parties.

There’s a second reason for the existence of so many parties. Since it’s easier to create a party inscription, doing so is strategically reasonable for politicians with medium influence. Along with the allowance from the Party Fund, the position ensures them a place in front the chief of Executive to negotiate spaces.

The Executive conundrum

The Chief of Executive depends on the Legislative to approve the laws they need. Be willing to negotiate with the Legislative is a fundamental piece of any mayor, governor or president’s competences. After all, congressmen form the referee that shall represent the diverse sorts of opinions and interests existing in society.

Since it’s easy to create a party with minimum representativity, the task of negotiating with Legislative becomes more difficult. It’s too many people to dialogue with. And then comes that old patrimonial tradition. A considerable part of the representatives relies on the guise that they have the power to create a hospital out of nothing. Even if that hospital isn’t necessary. What motivates a small congressman day after day is requiring amendments, requiring funds. That’s the gain they expect in tribute for their votes in the plenary. Their leader or the party leader or the appointed responsible for a group of congressmen gets a little more than funds — he or she gets the management position at a government-owned company, a secretary’s office in a ministry or possibly a position in the Esplanade.

This is partially a legitimate game. In parliamentarian democracies, in which the chief of Executive comes from the Parliament, sharing the power with other parties is part of the game. That ensures them an substructure for jointed voting. However, in this kind of political system it is required to have many votes on national level for a party to have the opportunity to elect national congressmen. That’s why parties such as the british Labor Party are composed by politicians from the Extreme-Right to the Center. They join because they agree on essentials and the system encourages the existence of fewer parties. Too many parties dilute the real power of defining policies.

But it’s not out of nothing that things occur differently here. In the brazilian game, not all interests are legitimate. The yearning for ministries, offices, directorships and management don’t occur just for having a saying in the way policies are to be conducted. It also occurs to generate money for corruption. Money for the elections on one side and for personal gain on the other.

Collor, FH, Lula e Dilma

Fernando Collor de Melo played a bad game with the Legislative. He didn’t include the representatives in the profit division, he lost substructural support in the Congress. He didn’t get the nation out of the terrific economic crisis he came into, even after taking the money out of so many people’s savings. With no support in the Congress, accumulating accusations of corruption within his governorment and with the people, unsatisfied, going to the streets, there was no one to support him politically.

Throughout Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government there had been polls in which the Executive chose to make payments to lure congressmen. The most noticeable proven case was the Reelection Amendment. But their relation was not just that. FHC spent time with congressmen. He complained about having to do it, but he did spend the time. Gave them attention. Played the amendments and funds game.

So did Lula. Spent his time, talked to representatives, treated them with all cordiality within his reach. And unlikely as to what happened in FHC’s case, Lula enjoyed the politics, he played well the tactics of small favors. Problem is, in this game, Lula had also made a decision from which the biggest bill to pay is coming up now. A bill that costs all much.

For not wanting to work wholesales with PMDB, an essentially physiological party, he chose to institutionalize what happened occasionally in FHC’s government: he got his articulators to negotiate by retail, one representative at a time. That was the birth of “Mensalão”. Once in the government, PT chose to organize the game that had always been played between ministries and state companies. They centered corruption. That way, they could control the amount of money gained and how to distribute it.

“Lava-Jato” is born

It so happens that uncentered corrpution is harder to discover. One scheme is discovered and it leads to the fall of a representative, a senator, a minister. That has always happened around here. Centralized corruption is different. You pull the thread carefully and it all comes along. All the scheme, everyone involved. Whether one likes his methods or not, pulling that yarn carefully is what Judge Moro, along with the Federal Police and Public Ministry, has been doing.

“Mensalão” and “Lava-Jato” are pieces of the same puzzle, ever clearer. But the story of PT’s downfall doesn’t stop at that.

The “Mensalão” was early denounced by one confessed corrupt politician going for political suicide. So PT, while in government, had to change their tactics for building a substructure in the Congress. The alliance that Lula initially didn’t want to make was born: PT and PMDB, an alliance formalized in the alignment of parties in which his successor, Dilma Rousseff, made her electoral campaign.

There’s one feature that puts Dilma strongly apart from FHC and Lula. That puts her closer to Collor. Politics is an art, it’s a dance and, when well played, it’s fascinating to watch. It’s the art of convincing of a certain way, of achieving alliances, of creating agreements. FHC was a decent player and Lula was brilliant. Dilma is atrociously incompetent. Never had patience for congressmen. Treated them badly. She’s incapable of formulating a coherent speech, much less convincing someone of something. She hesitated in economical matters, mildly-managed the ministers she wanted. Turned her back on issues that were dear to the Left without compromising to the ones of the Right. Imposes herself through her authority and that alone. Moves around, doing nothing. It’s rightful to ask: if you you dislike the political game this much, why wanting presidency?

Honesty, sadly, is no merit. Same goes for personal character. Dilma is a bad administrator and a bad politician. In command of a country, the result is disastrous.

But… Impeachment?

PMDB is the old Brazil. Oligarchical. Physiological. And, as “Lava-Jato” came to demonstrate, it’s a party with many corrupt politicians.

But PMDB is also a PT’s choice. When Lula chose to negotiate with representatives through the “Mensalão”, he chose to embrace physiologism. When the “Mensalão” went down — and even without the accusal it was bound to be discovered — the decision to make alliance with PMDB is another consequence on how the Executive-Legislative relations would turn out. Michel Temer didn’t come out as vice-president, elected in equal terms by each vote destined to Dilma, without PT choosing him.

With Eduardo Cunha, it’s another story. He wasn’t chosen by PT. And, according to the Justice’s findings, he has bank accounts in Switzerland. Accounts he lied about. Didn’t have to: tied to Fernando Collor and Anthony Garotinho in his previous career, which was thoroughly covered by Rio’s press throughout the last two and a half decades, Cunha is the portrait of PMDB. He may not have been chosen by PT but he is a consequence with the president’s incompetence when dealing with the Congress. The representatives chose to put on the Chamber someone who could confront Dilma.

The problem in questioning Cunha’s legitimacy is that the votes that elected him have each the same value of the votes that elected Dilma. So do the votes that elected all representatives that made him president of Chamber. The system that gives Dilma her legitimacy is the same that gives Cunha his legitimacy. And if the Chamber chose him for questionable criteria, it was the Executive who laid the rules on how to play the game.

Could it be different?

Lula had something Fernando Henrique also had: immense popularity in his first administration. FHC traded that for reelection. Lula, even more popular, did the same. The choice could have been another and he, much more than any president in the history of the New Republic, had the authority to force the Congress into a political reform that could actually change the way politics work. To stir the rules of elections, to limit the amount of parties and, evidently, to put to revision the way we want electoral campaigns to be financed. Without changing the rules, the game will be the same.

Lula could have been the president responsible for the greatest transformation Brazil had ever lived. He traded that for a fistful of slogans and PT’s permanence in power. He never ambitioned to turn the vitiated relationship between Executive and Legislative. He embraced it. And here we are, facing the forecoming of what may be the second impeachment of a president in the New Republic. That was the one great opportunity that’s been lost, the lesser one having its beginning in 2013. People took the streets that year and didn’t let go. They are unsatisfied, wanting better quality in public services, and that can only occur with real improvements in the administration. And that only gets better when physiologism stops been the criterium for choosing managers, directors and secretaries. Add all that to the treacherous economic crisis unnecessarily grave drawn by Dilma and we’re back on the impeachment building tripod: sore economy, grave evidences of corruption within the government and a president incapable of dealing with the Congress.

What’s in course in Brazil is not a Coup d’état. If Dilma loses power, it will be in an assembly of the Legislative presided by the president of the STF. Coups d’état silence Legislative and Judiciary to take over the Executive. Not the other way around. But what’s it good for? The day Michel Temer walks up the ramp to Planalto, all of us will have failed. Reset button, start over. In order for us to engage at last in the ideological clash concerning the ideas that shall dictate the future of our nation we must first defeat physiology.

It starts with the encounter of Left and Right in the Center to re-discuss the rules.

Pedro Doria is a writer for Globo and Estado de S. Paulo.


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