Brazil’s Party Problem
A 2016 study found that 79 percent of Brazilians don’t trust politicians or the political system. One of the main reasons Brazilians believe their concerns are not being represented is the country’s overabundance of parties. Brazil currently has thirty-six political parties; and the number is growing. This has led to a sense of underrepresentation and an increase in potential for corruption. A political reform targeting this problem is necessary in order for Brazilians to regain trust in the country’s politicians.
Brazil’s political system allows for unlimited political parties. Creating one requires a group of 101 people to draft a statue and get a petition signed by 500,000 people across 9 of Brazil’s 26 states. The petition is then submitted to the Supreme Electoral Court, which makes the final decision regarding its creation. The current Brazilian parties differ in size, ideology, and popularity across the country’s regions. In addition to the 36 existing parties, there are 61 parties currently petitioning to be registered with the Electoral Court.
Giving people more options should mean more people feel represented and engaged in politics. The opposite is true. 66 percent of the population does not align itself with any party. The most popular party in Brazil, the Worker’s Party (PT), represents only 15 percent of the population. Such a diversity of representation has drowned out the voices of many. Parties fight for funding, votes, and airtime. Decisions are based more on forming coalitions and gaining voters than on ideology.
Some critics defend the country’s lack of party affiliation. This theoretically allows people to choose candidates based on their respective platforms. In a political system as fractured as Brazil’s, this line of thinking leads to a weaker sense of representation. Voting for a candidate from a smaller party with no chance of influencing the national debate leads to a feeling of exclusion from the political sphere. If parties are too small, they become irrelevant in coalition making and their voices are not able to reach the floors of the Senate or House.
Furthermore, the number of political parties is one of the main reasons behind the rampant corruption in Brazil. Politicians feel pressured into forming backroom deals in order to create coalitions and secure majorities due to such an excess of competition. Companies are forced to spend more money on political campaigns leading to a greater risk of unregistered donations in exchange for future favors.
The continuous corruption scandals dominating Brazil’s headlines have certainly contributed to the mistrust people have in the political system. The scandals have led people to believe that politicians are only interested in getting rich themselves and not in representing the people’s concerns.
Some analysts claim that Brazil is merely going through growing pains as its middle class expands and more people become politically engaged. The rise of the middle class in the last decade has brought new political agents that were previously disenfranchised. Not having been being involved in creating the current political system, the new middle class is experiencing an expected degree of frustration. But here, too, the number of political parties plays a role. The vast number of options offered to this new class of educated voters fractures their voices and capacity to bring about meaningful change.
A political reform that limits the number of parties is necessary in order to regain people’s trust in the democratic process and to ensure that their voices are heard and represented. Now might be an opportune moment for an overhaul of the system as the country is going through a moment of crisis. President Michel Temer has been focusing on pushing various reforms through Congress. He has successfully passed labor reform and is now working on pension reform. Additionally, he has begun talks of political reform with members of Congress and the Electoral Court. Those talks, however, center on public financing for campaigns and electoral rules. President Temer should include measures limiting the number of parties to talks of political reform for the benefit of Brazilian democracy.