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Brazilian Lessons For Argentina's Broken Politics

Brazil's future looks bright regardless of who wins the presidential runoff. Why? Because its parties matter more than personalities, argues Argentina's former ambassador in Brazil.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner greets Brazil's Dilma Rousseff in April 2013
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner greets Brazil's Dilma Rousseff in April 2013
Diego Guelar*

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — The military regime that controlled Brazil for nearly two decades, beginning in 1964, "liberated" the country's political system in stages, starting at the muncipal level and eventually influencing the presidency.

Upon its return to democracy, Brazil had approximately 600 political parties and a system of mutating alliances wherein hundreds of candidates "circulated" among coalitions, shifting from one implausible grouping to another.

Since then, two parties have attained leading positions in the political spectrum: the Social Democrats (PSDB), which held sway under twice-elected President Fernando H. Cardoso (1995-2002); and the Workers Party (PT), which came to power under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and continues to govern under President Dilma Rousseff.

The PSDB and PT, in turn, have relied on the support of two other parties — the center-right DEM (Democrats) and center-left PMDB (Social Democrats) — that may not aspire to the presidency but assure governability and wield power on the municipal, state and parliamentary levels.

To this "mainstream center" we can add 24 parties with parliamentary representation that are permanently or occasionally allied to the PT or PSDB. In the recent general election, the PT led a coalition of nine parties. The PSDB's coalition included 15 parties.

We should recall that Brazil has 142 million eligible voters across 27 federal states, with a territory three times the size of the European Union.

The PT, the most voted party, won 70 seats in the lower house of Congress. Its allies won an additional 223 seats (out of 513 in total), meaning that together they enjoy a 57% majority. The PT won in 11 of the country's 27 states (first round) and retained its majority in the upper house of Congress as well.

This extremely complex political system has had the virtue of terminating messianic populism and consolidating a "front-oriented" system that requires Brazil's leaders to demonstrate an enormous capacity for dialogue and negotiation.

The Brazilian presidency will be decided in an Oct. 26 runoff between Rousseff (PT), the incumbent, and Aécio Neves (PSDB). In the first round of the elections, the two candidates won 41.5% and 33.6% of the vote respetively. A third contender, Marina Silva, was knocked out after winning 21.5% of the vote despite her recently rising popularity.

Silva will back Aécio on the basis of existing agreements to fight corruption and inflation, end reelection for presidents, simplify taxes and eliminate subsidies to large firms. The third-place finisher would also like to see an independent Central Bank and wants education and healthcare to each have 10% of the budget.

The result of the runoff is anything but a foregone conclusion. But whoever wins, Brazil will continue to grow — and with a low inflation rate, social inclusion and a high rate of investment.

There is a lesson to be learned here in Argentina. The party system works. Without it, all a country has is personality-driven leadership that is inevitably transitory and destined to fail.

*Diego Guelar served as Argentina's ambassador to Brazil, the United States and the European Union. He currently heads foregin policy for the PRO party.

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