The issue of political fronts has once again been at the center of discussion in Brazil and has been addressed in a variety of ways since democracy was threatened by President Jair Bolsonaro.
However, the problem goes back to the beginning of the current democratic period, in particular to the constituent process of the 1980s. One of the recent approaches approaches the problem from the perspective of the leaderships. Political scientist Sérgio Abranches, for example, considers that there are “leaderships that consider themselves democratic” but, deep down, are intolerant of “groups from different ideological fields”.
According to this author, political fronts should be formed on the basis of a “minimum agenda”, setting aside specific and ideological differences in favor of the “main contradiction”, which would be the disjunctive “neo-fascism versus republican democracy”.
Another approach, proposed by the essayist Luiz Sergio Henriques, invokes the proto-fascist threat as a process of internal deterioration of Brazilian democracy.
The remedy presented by this author is the political center as a space “to move the set of political forces and society itself”. The stumbling block to this alternative would be, in Henriques’ words, the “uncertainty about the main left party, its basic line and the orientation of its supporters, who were not trained in the politics of the fronts”. However, from his perspective, it seems enough for the PT to symbolically wave to the center, choosing a conservative vice president, “to calm the markets”.
The problems and challenges that both authors pose are real and need to be resolved, although it seems to me that the political center is far from being able to offer any alternative in the current Brazilian context, lost as it is in its programmatic orthodoxy and its political catatonia.
The difficulty of creating programmatic democratic fronts
The problem goes back to the beginning of the current democratic period, more specifically to the way in which the political center was able to rebuild itself and, in a certain way, reinvent itself in the following governments.
The first worrying signs appeared already in the constituent process (1986-1988) when, alongside the intense social mobilization for the new constitutional charter, a political representation reaped from the polls, reaped from the best political and intellectual cadres that had stimulated that mobilization.
The crises that followed, including the impeachment of Fernando Collor in 1992 (whose crimes went unpunished), only aggravated the phenomenon, making the words spoken in 1989 by Ulisses Guimarães, the old MDB leader in the resistance against the dictatorship, become become prophetic: “If you think the current Congress is bad, then wait for the next one.”
Since then, the gravitational center of the new Brazilian policy has moved away from the MDB axis towards the parties that were willing to carry out structural reforms in the country, PSDB and PT.
The turning point was the government of Itamar Franco (1992-1994), which managed to rebuild a democratic front and staunch the serious economic crisis worsened by the Collor government.
Franco’s political front, which ranged from the liberal right to the moderate left (ex-communists), although focused on the urgency of staunch hyperinflation and maintain the republican health of the system, failed to attract the bulk of the left, whose largest party, the PT , expelled from its ranks those who supported the new governing coalition.
The attempt to strengthen the young democracy would recur in the following years, despite the success of the Plano Real (1994), which managed to control hyperinflation.
Even in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2001), who had been Minister of Finance in the Franco government, the reforms were limited to liberalization, without facing the challenge of national development on the periphery of capitalism and, above all, without confronting neo-patrimonial practices and anti-republican groups from the conservative allies.
The two terms of Lula (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), the latter also interrupted by impeachment, with its welfare reforms and the exchange rate populism inherited from the Cardoso government, only aggravated the problem, as proved in the scandals of corruption known as Mensalão and Petrolão.
Instead of forming programmatic fronts that faced the most urgent economic and social problems, both the PSDB and the PT opted for governments supported mainly by physiological political forces, which ended up hindering, and even blocking, the path of reforms that could have unlocked development and averted the current crisis.
It’s not enough to defeat Bolsonaro at the polls
The crisis that today consumes Brazilian democracy is not limited or exhausted by Bolsonarism, which appears more as a marker of the difficulties of a democracy with “feet of clay”.
Based on interpersonal dependence, which unfolds in the sale of votes, and on financial fragility, which prevents social mobility, Brazilian democracy declines, entangled in structural problems expressed in the precariousness of work and the dismantling of production chains, with the demobilization of workers. and the closing of companies.
No democracy rests on such foundations. Just look at the political scenario that today threatens western democracies victims of deindustrialization, a scenario aggravated by the inflationary escalation of the pandemic and the War in Ukraine.
In Brazil, where the social fabric is structurally fragile, the result could not be better, as we see with Bolsonaro and his repeated threats of a coup d’état.
However, it is naive to assume that this delicate situation will be reversed simply by defeating the current president in 2022 and putting back in power the leaders responsible for the failed “party selfishness” that brought Brazil here.
Strengthening Brazil’s fragile democracy requires returning to a type of democratic front such as that of the Franco government, based on an agreed-upon problem-solving program, rather than the mere abstract defense of democratic principles, the only way to overcome populist polarization, end to the economic and social crisis and restore popular confidence in the 1988 constitutional pact.