It's payback time for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who now has to settle his final bill with the disparate band of opportunists who put their shoulders to the wheel and pushed him to power. The main supporters outside Lula's own PTthe PL, PPS, PCB, sections of the PFL and PMDB etcare already being paid back with positions and promises that they will get their share of the pie when jobs in various government areas are distributed to the boys.
Among those who have been rewarded is Ciro Gomes who stood against Lula for the PPS. Now sporting a beard, like so many members of the current government, Gomes is a minister and back in the limelight. Ex-president José Sarney of the PMDB, who represents the old-fashioned Northeastern oligarch style of politics which the PT is supposed to be against, is almost certain to be the next chairman of the Senate.
There is nothing especially noteworthy about this, since any coalition or grand alliance brings odd partnerships. However, what we are starting to see in Brazil is not just a strange combination of forces but the lack of an official opposition. We have commented before on the way in which the PMDB and PFL, in particular, have twisted and turned to suit themselves. During Fernando Henrique Cardoso's mandates both parties blew hot and cold from time to time when it suited them, resulting in phony crises and high profile resignations or sackings of ministers.
The PFL's Antônio Carlos Magalhães, in particular, treated the Congress with utter contempt by breaking the Senate rules he had been appointed to enforce. Although he eventually lost the battle and was forced to resign in 2001 he certainly did not lose the war. Like Sarney, he publicly backed Lula and is himself now back as a behind-the-scenes king maker.
Since it is difficult to know exactly what the PMDB or PFL really stand for, perhaps it is a bit naïve to criticize them for doing whatever they can to gain power. One wonders, however, what makes a voter actually give such groupings, a term used deliberately because it is difficult to see them as political parties, his vote. Maybe the elector actually deserves what he gets.
As if this were not enough, we are now seeing the PSDB of Cardoso, and the its unsuccessful candidate, the luckless José Serra, greasing up to the Lula government. Mid-January, the PSDB president, José Aníbal, and the PFL president, Jorge Bornhausen, held separate meetings with the PT president, José Genoíno, to discuss getting reforms to the scandalous pension system pushed through Congress.
After the meeting, Aníbal, who has a reputation as the PSDB's rottweiler, was fawning and promised Lula's government collaboration and a positive approach to the reforms. Bornhausen and Genoíno were photographed hugging each other while the PT leader pledged that the government would hold a dialogue with the opposition parties on the Congressional agenda. All three men were, of course, playing to the gallery and a high price will be paid before any major reformssuch as on the pensions, tax or the electoral system itselfare made but it is a bit alarming at this early stage to see the "opposition" behaving so feebly.
Let us hope this grasp for power at any cost ends soon and that the PSDB, of all parties, sticks to its principles. Without harming Brazil's interests let us see it make life for Lula as difficult as the PT did for Cardoso during his two terms when its opposed virtually all his reforms.
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações www.celt.com.br , which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at email@example.com
© John Fitzpatrick 2003
You can also read John Fitzpatrick's articles in Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com