Friday, November 27, 2020

The Brazilian right wants to seduce the “moderate” bolsonarists

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Joao Doria, member of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) and governor of Sao Paulo, alongside Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (right), during a military event in Sao Paulo, October 11. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

He was the real defeat of the elections of October 2018. The Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), formation of the right of government, present in the second round of all presidential elections for a quarter of a century and victorious at two repeatedly, then achieved the worst score in its history: only 4.76% for its candidate for supreme office, the unfortunate Geraldo Alckmin, who came in fourth position. Described by Jair Bolsonaro, the "toucans" (nicknames of party members) also lost almost half their seats in the legislative elections, with only twenty-nine deputies elected to the lower house. A real humiliation.

A year later, still stunned, the party is today embarking on an uncertain reconstruction around the figure of Joao Doria, 62, powerful but controversial governor of the state of Sao Paulo, the largest city in Latin America. At the end of May, the latter placed at the head of the party one of his close allies, the deputy Bruno Araujo, and delivered, on December 7, the central speech of the party's national congress in Brasilia. Objective: a "new PSDB", to win back those disappointed with bolsonarism.

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The initiative surprised. Because, paradox of paradoxes: the Brazilian right finds its roots … on the left! The Social Democracy Party, with its tricky name, was in fact founded in 1988 by progressive intellectuals in three-piece suits, enthusiastic supporters of the "third way" traced by the Blair-Clinton-Schroeder trio. Among them, many Paulist politicians, including Mario Covas, José Serra, Geraldo Alckmin and especially Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This distinguished sociologist presided over the country for two terms (1995-2003), elected and even re-elected in the first round: a luxury that even the very popular Lula could not afford.

"Conservative speech"

"It has been a long time since the PSDB has become a center-right party, indeed a far right party", says Glauco Peres, political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo. The moult is done "In stages", recalls the researcher, citing "Liberal politics and the big privatizations of the Cardoso era", the gradual appearance of a "Conservative and religious discourse" at the start of the 2010s and, above all, the lost campaign of the party candidate Aecio Neves for the presidential election of 2014, more marked on the right.

In a hurry to find the keys to the Planalto (the presidential palace), the PSDB voted with both hands in 2016 to remove Dilma Rousseff and took part in the government of his successor Michel Temer. Losing bet: inheriting the unpopularity of the outgoing power, soiled by corruption, the PSDB saw in 2018 its "toucans" fly away to Jair Bolsonaro.

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