Normalization with little enthusiasm

Brasil Observer - Aug 15 2016
31/07/2016- São Paulo- SP, Brasil- Manifestação a favor da democracia no Largo da Batata em São Paulo. Foto: Paulo Pinto/ AGPT
Demonstration in favour of democracy in São Paulo (Photo: Paulo Pinto/AGPT)

(Leia em Português)


The Brazilians society seems numbed, and to be waiting for acts that will help it repositions and eventually reaches accords again with politics and politicians


By Marco Aurélio Nogueira

After reaching its peak during the days preceding the decision of the Brazilian Senate to preliminarily push aside Dilma Rousseff on May 12, the “counter-coup” movement that had presented the president as a victim lost momentum. Today, it is maintained for convenience. The slogans “Temer out” and “I do not recognise the coup government” were used with the aim to damage and delegitimise the interim government that took power, but they didn’t manage to inspire public debate or political life. The movement wasn’t based on realistic analysis and trivialised the idea of the “coup”, emptying it of meaning. Their slogans began to take on the sole purpose of acting as background music for some acts of protest and meetings to write up demands.

Gradually, Brazilian public opinion, the country’s politicians and even the parties that comprised Dilma Rousseff’s government – starting with the PT – were bowing to circumstance and to political reality, which are setting another course for and perspective towards the country’s democratic governance and political institutionality.

After a jittering start, in which it showed little skill and formed an inexpressive ministerial cabinet, full of individuals suspected of corruption and accused of obstructing justice, the government of interim president Michel Temer achieved modicum stability, consolidated on July 17, with the election of the new president of the Chamber of Deputies. Chosen by a qualified majority, the centre-right deputy Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ) not only replaced the departed Eduardo Cunha (enveloped in numerous processes of corruption), but exposed crony parliamentarians (who make up an independent bloc together with defectors from major parties) to a new dynamic, in which the parties that opposed the Dilma government (PSDB, DEM, PPS, PSB) stand out with the PMDB, Temer’s party.

The House election also revealed the PT and other leftist parties’ operational difficulties and political errors. They were not only defeated but also took on a lesser role, without a political project to serve as a guide. Altogether, the interim government won a more consistent base.

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is not finished. It is expected that her definitive removal will not be submitted to vote on the Senate before the end of August. Although it is still within the realm of possibility that Dilma could be acquitted, the current political calculations grant her definitive removal practically as given. Public opinion seems to hold that a presidential change will mark the beginning of a new phase.

According to research conducted by the Datafolha, 50% of Brazilians believe that it would be in the country’s interest for Temer to continue in office until 2018, while 32% hold that it would be a good idea for Dilma to return. Although Temer’s time in office has not received enthusiastic reviews, after two months in office, his popular approval rating is higher than Dilma before she was removed. Research also shows that Dilma’s definitive removal is supported by 58% of Brazilians, while 35% oppose it. Regardless of their position on the matter, 71% believe that Dilma will be definitively removed from the presidency, while 22% believe that she won’t. Other researches has shown more important data: the majority of Brazilians think it would be better to hold a new election, which in practice means they are favourable to both Dilma and Temer to be impeached.

Normality and routine seem, however, to return to Brasilia, with a new government pushing through many obstacles and difficulties.

It is a return to normality with no room for euphoria or statements of admiration. Society seems numbed, and to be waiting for acts that will help it repositions and eventually reaches accords again with politics and politicians. Citizens look to the Planalto – the executive and legislative branches – with disdain. There are not reasons to celebrate: functional democracy, its rites and institutions, were respected, but the system does not show itself to be agile enough to respond to societal demands.

The interim government keeps the focus on the formation of a broad parliamentary base and the recovery of the economy, asserting the idea of bringing back “confidence”. It believes that, with this process, it will be able to obtain approval for Dilma’s definitive removal, and from there, reorganise its support, its ministries and its policies.

If the plan will succeed or not remains to be seen. The government continues – and it doesn’t seem this will change – with many sharp edges and ill-defined profiles: has not yet been “rounded out” and might never be harmonious. If it is able to go beyond the final test of finishing with Dilma, it is likely to continue to fluctuate as an irregular convex polygon, powered by an unstable base, inexpressive ministers, by the difficulties of coordinating a society without axis, the lack of competent leaders and articulators in Congress, by the pressures of political cronyism. Traditional political practice is under fire: delegitimised by society and fought by Operation Car Wash. Ongoing investigations keep politicians in state of suspense, threatening the situation and the opposition. This is an independent variable, which cannot be politically controlled.

The recovery of the economy itself – with the return of better indicators of employment, lower inflation and interest rates, the easing of the fiscal crisis and return to growth – is not certain, as it will always depend on what happens in the international arena. The interim government put together an economic team attuned to the market, but their reforms and adjustments designed to overcome the crisis must be discussed and approved at the political level, where the obstacles are not insignificant.

There is, beyond this, the overall situation of the country: its extreme social inequalities, its ineffective public systems and policies, particularly in the field of education, healthcare and housing, its infrastructure and productivity deficits. All this reduces economic competitiveness, raises production costs and leaves the population without adequate social protections and without basic care services.

In the new government’s favour, however, are the size of the domestic market and the strength of the Brazilian economy, the strategic importance of the country in the world and the population’s willingness for sacrifice, which continues although the disarticulation and passivity of the majority. The political crisis itself may contribute to the government taking action, to the extent that it may come to compel the government to grow through selective negotiations, favouring firstly one, then another of the more than 30 political parties, without being categorially disliked by the opposition, which shows itself today badly structured and in disorder.

These are relative advantages. The state and society disjuncture will never favour democracy, especially if it continues over the long term. Both the head and the body of the nation must feedback into each other. If, in the current moment, there is a new political climate in Brazil, what emerges as the main challenge at the moment is to know how the country will come to the forthcoming presidential elections, in late 2018.

Will there be some virtuous movement to reform politicians’ and their parties’ practice and culture, while helping to reduce parliamentary fragmentation, cronyism, the high cost of election campaigns, citizens’ passivity towards the realm of decision making? What effective innovations will the new government bring? Will it bring better government procedures, more efficient administrative structure, new habits and attitudes that aid in guiding state conduct and improving it? Not in the neoliberal sense, that is, by cuts that bleed social programmes and policies, but by eliminating waste, sumptuous expenses, privileges and concessions to those who are already socially privileged? Will democracy again see more substantive, higher quality energy, so that political activity is valued and the public debate includes different strands of opinion? None of these questions has a categorical answer today.

A small but important test will take place during the municipal elections that will be held in October this year. In these, the main parties will compete for voters and demonstrate, or not, their capacity for renewal. Candidates will have to adapt to the new electoral rules, which restrict campaign financing and reduce radio and television advertising timeslots, which are guaranteed by law in Brazil. The population itself will demonstrate its willingness to support new proposals and critically examine the commitments and promises of the different candidates.

The current Brazil is a society that cannot coexist with governments that are unilaterally market-orientated or that implement policies that are not aimed at a better distribution of income, justice and opportunities. The country calls for a renewal of political practices and government guidelines. It can continue to accept that it is not forthcoming in the short term, but it does not show itself willing to wait too long. Dynamic, heterogeneous societies wanting equal rights and opportunities as Brazil does do not tend to be particularly tolerant or always proceed rationally.

Of the several issues for which we have no clear answer in Brazil, one must be highlighted: which path will the parties follow to manage the effects of judicial investigations and recover their links with the forces of the nation? Who will survive and recover themselves in order to block the germinations of an “anti-politics” that threatens to contaminate the population? What kind of left will emerge from the crisis of the PT?

So far, the party that ruled the country for the past 13 years on a social reform programme ticket did not show themselves to be prepared to carry out a theoretical and cultural critical evaluation of their performance. With the exception of a few isolated voices (such as former governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Tarso Genro), the PT is still paralysed, painting itself as the victim of the beatings and ruses of selfish elites and concentration of the media, without exercising any effort to look within, analysing the society and the state that have established themselves in Brazil and, from there, to develop a new political project for the party.

The left’s paralysis divests Brazilian democracy of a protagonist who could make a difference. And it leaves the interim government – as the government after the final vote on the impeachment of Dilma – without a necessary counterweight, which would be essential to make the country stronger by 2018. The game is open, ready to be played by those who prove themselves to be qualified, both theoretically and politically.


  • Marco Aurélio Nogueira is professor of Political Theory and Scientific Coordinator of International Studies and Analysis, São Paulo State University-UNESP. This article was originally published at, e and edited by Brasil Observer.