By Dom Phillips
Last night, in a tense, high-profile ruling, Brazil’s electoral court decided that a new party set up by Marina Silva, a popular opposition politician, could not fight in next year’s presidential elections.
Silva’s party, the Rede Sustentabilidade, or Sustainability Network, had not registered enough members at election notary offices throughout Brazil by deadlines. This Folha piece, in English, has more detail.
Given that Marina Silva came third in the last election with nearly 20% of the vote, currently polls at 16% of potential votes compared to President Dilma Rousseff’s 38%, and is widely regarded as the main politician who could benefit from the outpouring of frustration that sent millions of Brazilians onto the streets in June, this has further exposed the weakness of Brazil’s party system.
Marina Silva can still join one of the many existing parties – and thus fight the election – and we’ll find out tomorrow if she does.
Last time Silva was a Green Party candidate. She is an environmentalist, and evangelical Christian, from a poor Amazon upbringing, who only learned to read and write at 16. Her new party needed to present 492,000 signatures which had been registered at electoral notaries all over Brazil. Rede was around 50,000 signatures short, but claimed that electoral notaries had rejected around 100,000 signatures without sufficient explanation.
The party wanted the court to take these into consideration – but the court said it had to follow the law. The same court has just allowed the creation of two other new parties who did have enough signatures registered, despite accusations that both parties falsified signatures. Their creation takes the number of parties in Brazil to a dizzying 32.
This blog piece by Fernando Rodrigues for Folha’s sister news site UOL on September 19 reported accusations that new party Solidarity had falsified signatures – even the signature of the boss of an electoral notary office in Várzea Paulista. Superior Electoral Court judge Luciana Lóssio raised allegations regarding suspicions over signatures presented by the 32nd party approved, PROS (Partido Republicano da Ordem Social – The Republican Party of Social Order). An electoral notary office in Belo Horizonte had counted signatures twice, Folha reported.
PROS is likely to support the government, Brazilian media says. It is also linked to evangelical churches.
Brazil has an important evangelical vote, which caused Dilma problems in the last election when she was accused by both Catholics and evangelicals of being pro-abortion and had to come out publicly against it. This story has some of the contradictory positions Rousseff has taken on the issue (basically, from pro to anti).
A new, evangelical-friendly party which potentially supports the government is much less of a challenge to Rousseff than Rede, an anti-government environmentalist party led by a popular evangelical, would have been. Each party also gets set an allocation of television time for campaigning, depending on how many seats it has in Congress. PROS could use its TV time to support Dilma’s campaign.
Brazil is effectively ruled by an unwieldy coalition, controlled by Rousseff’s ruling PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers’ Party, and based on mutual-interest deals.
As a detailed, well-researched special report on Brazil just published by the Economist magazine observes: “The relationship between the executive and legislative branches is openly mercenary, with the president trading pork-barrel spending for support from her huge, ideologically incoherent coalition.”
With the demise of Rede, a small window for possible real change may have closed: Silva is an idealist who quit her job as Lula’s environment minister in protest at what she saw as its lack of support for her, but she might just be the only politician with the stomach to contemplate the urgent structural and political reform Brazil so desperately needs. That is what she says, at least.
She has been a political outsider since leaving government and enjoys support among the many Brazilians who regard all politicians with deep cynicism. Understandably so, given the endemic graft and unwillingness to change that characterises Congress. But she is not seen as business-friendly nor particularly qualified to deal with Brazil’s complex and unwieldy economy, currently stumbling.
Political alienation, particularly among the youth, is growing. This story in business daily Valor explored how few of the youth involved in mass demonstrations in June have joined any political party, and how many have no plans to do so.
Come next year’s World Cup, we can expect more protestors and riot police on the streets. But Brazilian politicians are trying to hold back the tide. As the Economist noted, the size of Brazil’s middle class today and the depth of frustration it feels on a range of issues, means that sooner or later, something will have to change.