Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A month ago, the Curmudgeon wrote about a sweeping proposal to reform the French political system, made by France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron. In France, the success of that reform will depend upon the National Assembly, whose 577 members were elected this weekend.
Among the proposals are two that are currently being debated in Brazil’s National Congress — the reformation of labor laws and the reform of the pension system. There, as here, these are highly controversial topics, because they seek to modify long-established policies designed to protect workers.
The Brazilian Congress has long been controlled by a small number of major parties — PT, PMDB, PSDB, DEM and PP — that have persuaded a large number of minor parties to side with them. The means of persuasion have, traditionally, been the awarding of positions in state agencies and state-owned companies.
In France, the National Assembly had long been controlled, until the elections this month, by two major parties, one center-right and the other center-left. Macron, however, changed all this dramatically. He founded a party less than a year ago, whose stated purpose was to challenge the two major parties and “throw the rascals out”.
Astonishingly, he succeeded. Macron’s party, with one ally, has now won a large majority of the positions in the National Assembly. At least half of those seats are now held by persons with no political experience at all—something absolutely unheard of in France.
A few Brazilian politicians have tried the same tack in the past, but none has been successful. Marina Silva founded Rede, but it faltered and she allied herself with PSB, yet failed to win election as President. Gilberto Kassab founded PSD, which claimed it was neither government nor opposition. Kassab’s term as Mayor of São Paulo was so disastrous that his party also foundered.
There are proposals gaining strength in Brazil that it should follow the French example, by throwing all the rascals out. That would involve calling a constitutional convention, whose delegates could not currently hold elective office, and who would have to commit to not becoming candidates for another eight years.
To many, this sounds like “pie in the sky”, a pipe dream that could not possibly be achieved in the real world. But that was how it sounded in France a year ago, and at least part of the dream has come true. French voters had grown so tired of the traditional political parties, that they decided to start over.
The vast majority of Brazilian voters has also grown tired of the traditional political parties, and not just because they are corrupt. The cry of “No one represents me!” is heard throughout Brazil and it constitutes a threat to the very fabric of the nation. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, a government that is not “of the people, by the people, for the people” will perish from the earth.
The Curmudgeon does not know whether Macron will achieve his goals in a France governed by political neophytes, but he is beginning to consider seriously whether a similar shake-up might be the best way for Brazil to climb out of the political morass into which it has sunk.