Rousseff’s Presidency in Hands of Big-Tent Allies

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, pragmatic to a fault, is seen turning against the left-wing president.

President Dilma Rousseff looks on as her vice president, Michel Temer, shakes hands with state officials in Brasília, March 2
President Dilma Rousseff looks on as her vice president, Michel Temer, shakes hands with state officials in Brasília, March 2 (Marcos Corrêa)

Dilma Rousseff’s presidency hangs in the balance this weekend as police in São Paulo needed to fire tear gas and water cannon to clear mass protests and the lower house of Congress starts impeachment proceedings.

Last week, as many as three millions Brazilians took to the streets to demand Rousseff’s resignation.

Her inability to lift the country out of recession and corruption scandals that have now even tainted her popular predecessor, Lula da Silva, have weakened Rousseff’s position.

Her faith rests with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the country’s largest political force and its perennial kingmaker.

Tipping point

Reuters reports that the PMDB is poised to vote against Rousseff in the impeachment proceedings. What tipped the balance within the party were the recent protests, the news agency says.

Should Rousseff lose an impeachment vote, Vice President Michel Temer, the PMDB leader, would succeed her.

Brian Winter argues in Americas Quarterly that the economy played a role as well.

When the opposition last proposed impeachment toward the end of 2015, the PMDB concluded there wasn’t a compelling enough case against Rousseff and that the economy might still recover in 2016.

“The financial establishment concurred and the drums of impeachment died down,” writes Winter.

There is still no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Rousseff herself, even though proof of graft in her Workers’ Party has been piling up. But the economy has only got worse, with 100,000 Brazilians losing their jobs every month.

The business community is betting that Temer […] would draw on the PMDB’s old traditions to begin healing the country, stabilize the economy — and marshal some pro-business reforms through Congress.


Winter warns there is a risk, though. Temer and the PMDB very much represent the political establishment so many Brazilians have tired of. As protesters clash with police in the streets, would they stand a Temer interregnum until elections are due in 2018? Especially when the Workers’ Party would presumably turn against it?

The PMDB could put together a coalition of the middle, including the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the largest of the parties now in opposition. But it would find itself in the spotlight for the first time in a long time. As Winter puts it, it’s easier to “help govern” than to “govern”. The PMDB knows that better than anyone.

The party is pragmatic to a fault. It lacks an ideology and exists rather to serve the interests of regional bosses and constituencies. It is perhaps better understood as a patronage network than a political party.

It hasn’t sought the presidency in decades. The PMDB backed Social Democrat leaders before switching its support to the Workers’ Party in 2002. In return, it has won control of both houses of Congress and the vice presidency.

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