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Note: This piece originally appeared in Portuguese in IREE, a Brazil-based think tank. Juliano Medeiros is a historian who holds a Masters in History and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Brasília. He was President-Director of the Lauro Campos Foundation (2016-2017) and has been the national President of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) since 2018. He is the author and co-organizer of the books “A Necessary Party: 10 years of the PSOL” (FLC, 2015) and “Five Thousand Days: Brazil in the Era of Lulismo” (Boitempo, 2017).
To read the original piece, click here.
The beginning of 2021 has brought with it a deepening of the health, economic, and social crises in Brazil. The current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked by several new variants, has once again exposed the Bolsonaro administration’s inability to deal with the crisis. Last week Brazil again reached a painful total of 1,500 deaths in a single day (see Editor’s Note), and the lack of vaccines for the entire population creates further uncertainty about the country’s future.
With the end of the Auxílio Emergencial economic relief program, it is estimated that at least 63 million people in Brazil will be plunged into living below the poverty line, and 20 million people below the extreme poverty line. Without alternatives, millions of workers continue to be exposed to the virus as they struggle for survival.
As a consequence of the deepening crisis, the government’s attrition of popular support is significantly increasing. The latest polls show that support for President Bolsonaro has plummeted to somewhere between 25 percent and 30 percent.
This drop in popular support, however, does not mean an automatic loss of political support for Bolsonaro. The alliance between Bolsonaro and the centrão—the so-called “big center,” the old right-wing represented by Democratas (DEM), Progressistas (PP), the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), Republicanos, etc.—was renewed by the recent elections of Arthur Lira (Chamber of Deputies) and Rodrigo Pacheco (Federal Senate) with government support, and the release of more than R$3 billion in parliamentary amendments.
Even so, the current fall in popular support for the government will likely generate tensions in this alliance, since the pragmatism of the centrão—which is keeping its eye on the reelection of their deputies and governors in 2022—demands concrete actions from the government to combat the pandemic and economic crisis.
The noisy talks between Lira and Minister of the Economy Paulo Guedes regarding a possible return of the emergency aid program give an indication of the future difficulties that may arise in the relationship between the Bolsonaro government and the centrão, as does the decision by the Chamber of Deputies to uphold the imprisonment of the Bolsonarista deputy Daniel Silveira, detained on orders of the Supreme Federal Court.
With Bolsonaro’s growing unpopularity, a debate concerning presidential succession is to be expected. The implosion of the Democratas and the deteriorating relationship between Governor of São Paulo João Dória and the national leadership of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) demonstrate the challenges of establishing a center-right, PSDB alternative to Bolsonaro.
The centrão maintains its alliance with Bolsonaro, waiting for their future to be determined in the 2022 election. Still, in the liberal camp, names like former Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta (DEM) and television presenter Luciano Huck (unaffiliated) are promoted by the mainstream media in its search of the ‘Brazilian Macron.’
In the left and center-left opposition camp, the debate about 2022 has also recently gained momentum. However, the discussion surrounding names fails to address a central issue: a strategy to defeat Bolsonaro and get Brazil out of crisis.
While a portion of the left argues for the need to build a “Broad Front” with sectors of the center-right, other leftists continue to call for the formation of a unified front for their political camp.
The differences in these varied perspectives on the left can be summarized in the following way: the former believes in the existence of a “democratic right-wing” willing to form alliances with the left; the latter believes that an alliance with liberal sectors would only be possible by subordinating the left—as was evident in the presidential election for the Chamber of Deputies—to the hegemony of the right, compromising their chance at overcoming the country’s current crisis. Personally, I align myself with the second perspective.
Regardless of which tactic prevails—strictly speaking, it is possible that both will be tested at the polls in 2022—there is a consensus that it is necessary to guarantee collective action with respect to the major crises currently affecting Brazil. What holds promise for the left is their unity concerning the campaign for a vaccine for all Brazilians, the return of emergency aid, and the impeachment of Bolsonaro. The same can be said of the left’s recent opposition to efforts to grant greater autonomy to Brazil’s central bank.
As political players prepare for the 2022 elections, they are strategically positioning their pieces on the proverbial chessboard. Wisdom and willingness to partake in open dialogue are needed if the left-wing parties want to play a relevant role in overcoming Brazil’s various crises; as the poet says, “el tiempo dirá, si al final, nos valió lo dolido” (time will tell, if in the end, it was worth the hurt).
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published several months ago. Since then, data concerning Brazil’s COVID-19 cases has changed, with their most recent single-day death toll being 3,251.