By Mario Toer (for Safe Democracy)

Mario Toer explains the complex political framework of Brazil, where 49 percent of the votes obtained by Lula and the Worker’s Party in the first round of elections represents a real accomplishment. In Toer‘s opinion, Lula will most likely win the second round, but if he wants to get anything done, he will have to give up his naivety and undertake skillful negotiations with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. Toer explains who is who in the vast panorama of Brazilian politics.

Mario Toer is an expert on Brazil and a professor of Sociology and Latin American Politics at the University of Buenos Aires.

THROUGHOUT HISTORY, THE BRAZILIANS HAVE BECOME accustomed to negotiating. Since the colonial era –which was a much more relaxed period in comparison to the rigid Spanish bureaucracy that had to ensure the safe arrival of its mining wealth– Brazil has based itself upon the art of negotiation and agreement among the powerful of the region.

It was negotiation that kept the immense territory united after separation from Portugal. Even the iron-fisted dictatorship that installed itself for fifteen years in 1964, had to use negotiation, creating a Parliament, and limiting its authoritarian rule to the exclusion of undesirable representatives. No leader has been able to rule the country on mere decrees; with such a vast range of interests, negotiation has always been necessary.

In Brazil, everything is negotiable, from the power of a far away town hall to the vote on every resolution the Brazilian Parliament; from who enters and who exits the favelas, to who goes first through an intersection after the sun has gone down and the traffic lights have grown indifferent. The same can be said for other countries in different longitudes and latitudes; but nowhere in the world is their as much negotiation as Brazil.

It’s enough to look at the double meanings of many local elections in regards to the Presidential election, the pauses and silences that come before promising state support for the national government, and the number of representatives who negotiate into a party and then change sides during their mandate, to understand what negotiation means to Brazil.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party won 89 seats, the most of any single party in Parliament, without having presented a candidate for the Presidency. The party is itself chaotic; the majority of candidates probably disagree with one another on most issues. But what is important for the party’s unity is that it is able to come together in solidarity when it is time to approve a new law.

A long list of smaller parties on the margins of the four main powers makes up over a third of the representatives: 211 out of 513. In political jargon, these political groups are called parties for hire.

The center right block, made up of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party and the Liberal Front Party, is divided among different regions in the country, generally backing Geraldo Alckmin. Each party has about 65 seats in the parliament.

Amidst this varied political scenario, the Worker’s Party is the only one to have support in every state of the country. Despite this, however, the government of President Lula da Silva is not going to have an easy time governing. Lula is going to have to figure out how to govern for three and a half years with only 83 representatives out of 513 in Parliament, 12 senators out of the 81 that form the House, and only 3 governors in the 27 different states.

The Worker’s Party has struggled, to no avail, to gain more power and institutional resources for the Executive branch.

And so, two options are open to Lula: either to make no change at all, or to learn how to negotiate within the framework of this unique parliamentary republic. It is here, that he has paid the price for his inexperience and rudimentary connections to the establishment.

Unlike other parties, the Worker’s Party has had a good amount of trouble with the media. With the recent discovery of the parallel box scandal, an attempt to buy arguments to discredit and prove the corruption of Alckmin’s Party, the media has begun to bombard the Worker’s Party for all that it is worth. But with his charisma and popular distributive policies for the needy in Brazilian society, Lula has been able to bridge the gap and make a bid for a new mandate, in which he can hope to strengthen the scarce institutional resources of the government.

Yet, even if Lula does win, the opposition has been very successful in establishing an inflexible governing situation for him to deal with. With the threat of a new scandal, apart from the one already uncovered by the media, some definite limits have been set as to what the Worker’s Party will be able to accomplish.

49 percent of the votes, under these circumstances, is, therefore, a real achievement. But the parliamentary elections, which have left the Worker’s Party with exactly the same number or representatives as it had before, may put the objective of gaining new institutional resources on hold.

The way things are, the Worker’s Party will have to negotiate, with a little more skill and a lot less naivety, with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, more than twenty governors, the white collar mafias, and the mafias that control the favelas, as well as dealing with the economic interests that control the productive life of the country.

When Lula was told that the country was divided between the poor north and northeast, which voted for him –reinforced by the Worker’s Party victory in Bahia once the historic bastion of the rightist Liberal Front Party– and the rich south, which went to the opposition, he responded that things were not so simple. If the decision were based solely on the poor against the rich, Lula claimed that he would have already won throughout the entire country. The coalition of the wealthy can account for about a third of the votes for Alckmin. The rest is comprised, for the most part, of an intricate clientele network ranging from the most primitive and ancient, to the most sophisticated of our time.

Much can be said about this complex reality, but the most prudent thing, perhaps, would be to wait for the result of the second round. Nothing is finished yet. The media, which determines what and how things are discussed, has still not tired of the issue of the Worker’s Party scandal. And the possibility of a new scandal has yet to be milked dry.

Regardless, at these heights, there is one aspect that stands out above all others, which is the naivety and smugness of those intellectuals who blame the Worker’s Party for not having gone further in its transformations of government, and encourage voters to support other leftist parties.

Do they not understand the difficult framework of power relations in Brazil? It is not a bad thing to disagree with the Worker’s Party, but from there to imagine that sheer will can undo the tethers of complex governmental structures, and claim that the Worker’s Party has fallen away from its principles, is taking it too far.

At the very least the criticism has not nourished itself on the analysis of a reality where mere boldness can create vast change. These voices were repeated widely throughout the media, without a doubt in the hope that it would decrease the number of votes gained by the Worker’s Party. But the votes in favor have not been few: in all some 10 percent. Will it be enough to give Lula a new opportunity on the next round?

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(1) The semiologist Eliseo Veron pointed out recently the notable influence that television exerces in Brazil, in contrast to its more restricted authority in Argentina (Clarin 3/9/2006). The reason can be found in the effect that the twenty years of the Peronist expression if it’s on TV, it’s a lie had no the population. In Brazil, the axiom goes more like this, if you aren’t on television, you don’t exist.