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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Those who ride the Rio de Janeiro Metrô regularly hear station announcements in English, including the phrase “disembark on the right” meaning exit or alight from the trains through the right hand doors. Little did the Curmudgeon suspect that this phrase would accurately describe what happened in Brazilian politics on Tuesday, March 29th.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

To disembark, in English, usually means to leave a boat or a ship. That, metaphorically, is a description of what PMDB, Brazil’s largest political party, has just done. PMDB, until yesterday in the same boat with PT and President Dilma, holding no fewer than seven Cabinet Ministries, has deserted her sinking ship.

Previously, only part of PMDB’s power structure (think House Speaker Cunha and Vice President Temer) had been rocking Dilma’s boat, but with yesterday’s decision, the ship of state is about to capsize. When it does, it is doomed to sink to the lowest levels of the sea, where only the inky Da Silva Squid can withstand the pressure.

This turnabout is nothing short of astonishing. PMDB has long been famous for always, always, always, being part of any governing coalition, no matter what party the President belongs to. PMDB has always been the party of power politics, at the federal, state and local levels.

Now, as its stalwarts resign their positions as Ministers and holders of plum directorships in government agencies and companies, PMDB will, in theory, be out of power, no longer entitled to share in the spoils distributed so munificently to those who run Brazil.

Practice always trumps theory. PMDB has sunk roots very, very deep into Brazil’s local politics, and at that level, where true power resides, PMDB has immense organizing and financial strength. Municipal elections for mayor and city councils are coming up in October, and PMDB will exert all its strength to achieve results there.

Why did PMDB jump ship? Almost surely because of Lula, whom they used to work well with when he tempered his leftist urges with rightist economic policies. Now, Lula has loudly opted to join Dilma on the far-left side of the political spectrum, employing the populist rhetoric he propounded when losing three successive bids for the Presidency.

PMDB is nothing if not pragmatic and concentrates on winning elections. Its members are almost all more center-right than center-left. In that, it resembles PSDB, its greatest rival. PMDB bigwigs know that left-wing rhetoric will eventually lose to center right or center left programs. Therefore they have begun discussions with PSDB about a new center right coalition, after Dilma is impeached.

For, have no doubt, Dilma will be impeached by Congress. No one is yet sure whether the Senate will convict her after impeachment, but even there, her support is beginning to waver.

To return to our nautical metaphor, PMDB, having disembarked on the right, will, over the next few months, begin punching holes below the Good Ship Dilma’s waterline, while simultaneously throwing overboard all the bailing tins.

The Curmudgeon will emit more dismal columns opportunely.

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