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Political Science

Separated at birth

In spite of the desire of some, PT and PSDB seem destined to follow different paths

In “Cimos” [Summits], a tale from Primeiras estórias [First Stories], by Guimarães Rosa, the man from the state of Minas Gerais narrates the suffering of the Boy saddened by his mother’s illness. One morning, he sees, in the garden, a toucan, which comes back every day. The plumed beauty, the boy believes, was passing positive fluids to the mother, who, one day, improves. The Boy believes in his heart that the miracle had been done by his partnership with the bird. A pretty illusion? “There are, in the specialized literature, two certainties about the PSDB (The Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy): its creation, in 1988, happened for ideological reasons, a dissatisfaction of some parliamentarians with the alliance that the PMDB (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement – the party which they belonged to) was cultivating with the right wing. The other is that the alliance that the PSDB sealed with the PFL ( Party of the Liberal Front), following the 1994 election, was pragmatic, which mischaracterized its ideological orientation” explains Celso Roma, a political scientist from USP, and one of the few to study the structures of the toucan ( the symbol of the party) party.

“In actual fact, the emergence of the PSDB from the split with the PMDB had more of a relationship with pragmatic-electoral objectives than with ideological questions. As to its evolution, on the contrary, the alliance with the PFL can be explained more by ideological reasons than by pragmatic ones” he explains. In an election in which, for the third time running, there will be a polarization between PT and PSDB and that many question the choices made by the toucans, it is important to understand how the internal dynamics of the PSDB work, since, as Roma notes, “much of its evolution and functioning can be understood from an analysis of its origin and organizational structure.” If the specialists are often mistaken in their analyses about the party, what can be said of the voters? “They tend to make use of the parties as a short cut to reduce the cost of the electoral decision, in particular in multiparty contexts like the Brazilian one” observes a political scientist from the University of São Paulo (USP), Maria D’Alva Kinzo, coordinator of the Thematic Project Parties and political representation: the impact of the parties in the structuring of the electoral choice in Brazil, financed by FAPESP, which analyzes how the parties organize themselves to seek support in the ballot boxes and with this constitutes guidance for the choice by the vote.

However, the Brazilian voters have difficulty in identifying the parties as distinct political players. “In a situation of intense fragmentation and lack of clarity of the party system, deriving from the practice of every kind of electoral alliances, it is difficult for the voter to fix the image of the parties, distinguish its leaders and proposals, and establish party loyalty” he warns. The researcher reveals that parties like the PFL and the PSDB, which have been in the federal government for a long period, have shown insignificant levels of party loyalty, unlike, for example, the PT, which, alongside the PMDB (in a lesser proportion) has managed to fix its image and create ties with a significant portion of the electorate. “The small proportion of those interviewed that know which party the then president of the Republic, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, belonged to was surprising: only 29% gave the right answer.”

“The contrast between PT and PSDB has been marked since their origins. Accordingly, what calls attention is that, in spite of the current party system bringing together dozens of parties, only two emerge as protagonists of this campaign. To achieve this feat, these parties followed very different paths” Roma observes. The PSDB arose in 1988, a result of the collective split of PMDB parliamentarians who called themselves the more progressive and to the left wing of the banner. “Although it entitled itself as social-democrat, unlike the classic European social-democrats, which originated in liaison with the working masses and the trade unions, the PSDB had an exclusively parliamentary origin, already having in its composition influential politicians in the national scenario” he recalls.

For the political scientist, there is an excessive valuation of the ideological aspect as a variable that explains the foundation of the toucan party, in particular the one that shows its emergence as a result of the disagreement of its leaders about alliances with right wing parties (like the candidature of João Leiva to be mayor of São Paulo, inside the PMDB, which postulated the connection with conservative politicians from the PFL and with Jânio Quadros) or the rejection of the extension of the presidential term (to be read as the distension of the group from the PMDB during the 1988 constitutional assembly that was discussing the duration of the mandate of José Sarney). “But, six years after its foundation, the PSDB constructed a center-right alliance to reach federal power, and two years later doubled the duration of the presidential term. Accordingly, ideological explanations are inconsistent, seeing that the PSDB itself adopted strategies of action that it used to repudiate shortly after its birth” the researchers explains.

For Roma, what prevailed was pragmatism: the Sarney government had conceded extremely little political space to the future toucans; they were excluded from the succession process for the Presidency of the Republic; a market of voters from the center opened up, discontented with the directions taken by the government. As the sociologist from USP Brasílio Sallum Jr. recalls, the New Republic( the name commonly likend to the Sarney’s administration) ended up turning into an unstable system of political domination, in which the institutional dimension, the sociopolitical sphere and the economic conditions were not well linked. Trying to renew the developmentist strategy, the Sarney government faced adverse external conditions that drained capital, instead of bringing it to Brazil.

“The difficulties of stabilizing a new form of State stimulated the growth in the Brazilian elite of a new political project. Feeling insecure with the reformist initiatives of the New Republic, in particular the heterodox policies of monetary stabilization, the liberal economic policies started to become relevant for them” analyzes Sallum Jr. According to him, although the economic liberalism only became politically hegemonic in the 1990’s, this hegemony began to be constructed socially in the second half of the 1980’s and rapidly reached the average voter. There was a demand.

“Accordingly, the origin of the PSDB can be explained by its more pragmatic electoral orientation. It was a question of a group of federal deputies and senators who believed they only had a possibility of conquering positions in the federal government, principally the Presidency, by taking advantage of the political capital accumulated by the PMDB, but by means of another party” Roma reckons. For the political scientist, the liberal programmatic orientation was established since the origin of the party and would not sustain the apologetic discourse of the “swerve to the right” abandoning the social-democratic project, as a cost that the party had to pay to reach government by means of the alliance with the PFL. Already in its manifest of 1988, there was the declared intention of breaking with the nationalist and nationalizing character of the Brazilian State and the refusal of the newly-born party to conduct negotiations of rural and urban workers, and to intervene in their grievances, which ought to be left free between bosses and employees. With regard to the social problems, the supposition was that they would be resolved as a result of the monetary stability, fiscal austerity, decentralization of public administration and sustainable growth as a panacea.

“The construction of the programmatic identity of the PSDB reveals an ideological dilemma between declaring itself social-democrat, on the one hand, and presenting a program of government orientated by liberal theses, on the other. The social-democrat discourse, however, was fundamental in the process of mobilizing affiliates and militants, which conferred a left-wing bias to its origin. The liberal tonic of its program of government, on the other hand, predominated as an ideological conception of its leading members in elected positions” says Roma. The same, he says, was valid for the strategy of alliances adopted by the PSDB, which, in 1994, linked itself with parties from the right and rose to power, translating this conception into a concrete policy. “All the more so when Minister Sérgio Motta, in whom it is difficult to distinguish the serious side from the buffoon side, announced that the PSDB’s political project is to remain 20 years in power” once claimed the late economist Roberto Campos. For Sallum Jr., the moment offered good fortune, the situation of the New Republic, well taken advantage of by the virtue of the political leaderships. “The reference to good fortune and to virtue makes it possible to resume with a grain of salt the idea of John Pocock’s ‘Machiavellian moment’, which emphasizes the role of leadership in the creative manipulation of the opportunities bequeathed by good fortune to make prevail the interests of the political community threatened by the confrontation with particularist interests, thus reconstructing the State.”

Accordingly, in Roma’s evaluation, the union with the PFL did not represent a rupture in its original program, nor a mischaracterization of its ideological essence. “In actual fact, it is even possible to perceive the opposite, that is, the change in the positioning of the PFL in the FHC government in relation to the functions of the State?. Any alliance with the left, from the PT or PDT, was impossible from the start. “The coalition of the PSDB with parties on the right followed much more criteria of programmatic affinities than pragmatic criteria. The vision of the national leaderships of the PSDB prevailed in the adoption of this electoral and governmental strategy” he explains. Fundamental for this was the model of internal organization adopted, allowing a small group to decide the course that would be followed by the party, despite the existence of dissidences inside it.

“In the case of the PSDB, because of its origin and for the strategies adopted throughout its historical evolution, an organization structure was formed that favored autonomous actions of the leaderships.” The first of them is the absence of internal powers for an effective veto of the action of the militants. According to Roma, the party pays little attention to the internal structure and concentrates the decision-taking process in the hands of the leaders, with the affiliates having little or no decision. The researcher observes that parties, in general, organize themselves to reach power. The toucans, on the contrary, reached power and are still trying to organize themselves. For him, the PSDB has accustomed itself, in this hardly democratic internal process, to have unanimous decisions, to have no internal life in the party, as if it were always possible to have unanimity of everything. Hence, he notes, the uproar provoked by the Serra-Alckmim dichotomy. “They cannot manage to bring about a decision-making process, with primaries held normally in such as way that the disputes are resolved.” Roma notes that the PSDB is a party with an eminently consensual view of politics, which detests conflict of any origin, and is always in favor of political positions that have a technical basis, which, the researcher recognizes, is very difficult to happen in practice. Always trying the split the cost of the government, aware of the fragility of the party structure adopted since its foundation, the party concentrates the taking of decisions on an inner circle.

Accordingly, even though the PSDB statutes provide for a division of powers amongst the ranks of the party; democratic participation of its affiliates, with the power of veto; punishment of undisciplined parliamentarians; and municipality-based nucleuses that ought to make viable bonds between the party and society and the social movements, “the actual internal organization is radically different from that provided for in these statutes, and, on the empirical level, it is not possible to observe any of the points mentioned” the researcher notes. “Consequently, the entry of affiliates into the PSDB is very much associated with getting advantages generated by belonging to a party that has conquered the Presidency of the Republic and the government of the main states of the federation” ponders Roma. This can even be verified in the historical development of the activity of the party in the Parliament.

The political scientist delimits two clear and antagonistic moments. The first, which starts with its foundation and closes with the impeachment of Collor, is characterized by the distancing from the federal government. “During the Sarney and Collor governments, the PSDB did not support the Executive in the National Congress. The federal PSDB deputies voted closer to the parties of the left, amongst them the PT.” At the second moment, with a participation in the Itamar Franco government and continuing in the FHC term, the ascension of toucans to positions of power is noted, and there is a turnaround in its parliamentary postures. “The party altered its position in the National Congress of opposition to the incumbent government. In other words, the process of parliamentarization of the party started in the first stage of the Itamar term of office, in which the party approved 87.2% of the submissions from the leader of the government and indicated six party members to occupy cabinet minister positions.”

For Roma, the pragmatism that lies at the root of the PSDB resulted in an organizational structure with little internal democracy and concentration of power in the hands of a cardinalate, whose absolute power has made it possible for the party to be able to step over internal obstacles, even when the routes followed ran counter to the ideological spectrum preached. “This meant the adoption of a strategy that combined the objectives of arriving at political power and implementing its program of government. Accordingly, its strategy of alliances, outlined as from 1994 from the top of its leadership, represented a high degree of rationality of its national leaderships.”

“However,” concludes the researcher, “this weak party organization favored the rational taking of decisions, producing greater electoral efficiency and governmental capability. Maintaining weak links with civil society, demonstrated by the exclusively parliamentary origin and by the lack of liaison and organization of the interests of representative associations, its leaderships can act in the governmental arena and in the electoral competition with great autonomy of decision.” Anyone imagining a connection between PSDB and PT is delirious.

“The organization of the PT arose outside the electoral and parliamentary give and take, from the liaison with interests of organized sectors of civil society, above all trade unionist, it comes from the Catholic Church, intellectuals and left-wing parliamentarians, while the PSDB was created inside the National Congress, to contend for the 1989 presidential election” the political scientist says. Also, the PT opted for an internal organization that instituted internal rules that encouraged the participation and the discipline of its affiliates, since they open up for them the chance of participating in the party decision-taking process, in the opposite direction to PSDB, which preferred a more decentralized structure and leaders endowed with great autonomy of decision, a choice made to prevent the supposed “immobilization with red tape” of the party. Accordingly, the toucans do not face resistance in their entrails, like the PT leaders, at the time of indicating candidates or entering into coalitions or alliances.

In programmatic terms, Roma observes, the two wage a heated contest, but which today has suffered subtle alterations. PSDB is returning to the rupture with the nationalist-developmentalist model, adopted in Brazil by Vargas as from 1930, and prefers to keep aloof from conflicts between capital and labor, as well as to adopt more universalistic social policies, based on indirect results of monetary policies. The PT is more interventionist, believing that the solution of the social problems lies in sustained development, and not, as the toucans believe, on the deregulation of the economy, on the reform of the State, and on the opening up of the economy to the international market. But the opposites have ended up meeting on one point: the PT’s doctrine now includes in its program the commitment to the stability of the currency and to the primary surplus, a sign of moderation of the old radical postures of the party.

“Whatever the result is, democracy advances in quality when its elections are delimited by parties committed to distinct programs, in such a way that the preferences of the larger part of the electorate are represented in the government. It is only in this way that the voters can establish stronger and more long-term bonds with their party banners” says Roma, emphasizing the results of the research by Maria Kinzo. “The coherence between rhetoric and practice is fundamental for the voters to consolidate their party loyalties. The PT and the PSDB seems to be in the vanguard of this movement” in the researcher’s evaluation.

Furthermore, both are Brazilian parties endowed with what political scientist Jairo Nicolau, from the Rio de Janeiro Research University Institute (Iuperj), calls a “presidential vocation”. “This vocation was developed in four presidential contests and has forced these two parties to formulate proposals for the country, to create more organic networks with the intellectual world, and to create decision-taking processes at the national level” he observes. “On the other hand, PMDB and PFL, two parties with strength in the municipal elections and in Congress, by refusing to effectively contest for the Presidency, have ended up operating more like a confederation of state leaderships (and, in each state, with a confederation of local leaderships).” Whether it was the imagination of the Boy or the strength of the plumed bird that saved the sick mother, it is up to the voters to decide this dilemma from Rosa in the ballot boxes in October.