Brazil’s Would-Be President Goes on Hunger Strike and Alienates Own Party

PMDB presidential pre-candidate Anthony Garotinho is on a hunger strike. It began on Sunday afternoon, April 30, and continues this Thursday, May 4. Doctors say he is "lucid and oriented," though he has lost 2.6 kg since the strike began.

Meanwhile, members of the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) called on him to break off the protest.

His stated reason for the protest is what he sees as a concerted effort by the media to "prevent my becoming a candidate for president of the Republic and breaking with this economic model which, over the years, has brought unemployment, hunger, and misery to millions of Brazilians."

However, Garotinho’s strategy fails to take into account the very favorable electoral reality in which his party now finds itself. Currently, the PMDB has 74 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (out of a total of 513), and 19 seats in the Senate (out of 54), meaning that the party has the third-largest number of federal legislators, after the PT and the PFL.

This is more, in fact, than the PSDB, which comes in fourth with 71 deputies and 11 senators. Nine governors are members of the PMDB, including those of Rio de Janeiro, the Federal District, Rio Grande do Sul and Pernambuco.

In short, the PMDB is in a relatively strong position nationally. And as if the legislative numbers weren’t enough, the two major candidates for the presidency, Lula (PT) and Alckmin (PSDB) are both courting PMDB support.

If the PMDB plays its cards right, that sizeable block of legislators – and the constituents which come with them – might well bring a great deal of clout with the PT and the PSDB: the latter two parties’ candidates will be looking to those PMDB supporters for their votes come October, offering the PMDB a chance to significantly affect the agenda in the run-up to the elections.

In spite of all the news which suggests that the PMDB is well on its way to an even greater role in national politics – and perhaps even putting a partisan in the vice presidency – Garotinho wants to be president, and he’s willing to go on a hunger strike to get it.

Unfortunately for him, Garotinho’s tactics are both ineffectual and "immature" – as senate president Renan Calheiros (PMDB) put it. Other members of the PMDB have criticized Garotinho for "exposing the party to ridicule."

Meanwhile, the most sympathetic response from within the PMDB came from the president of the party, Michel Temer, who took the diplomatic route, saying, "he isn’t exposing the party to ridicule, because the party is giving its official word that it is not in agreement with the strike."

So, as far as I can tell, the very best Garotinho will get from his own party is an official attempt to distance itself from his actions.

However, it’s not too late for the PMDB to forge an electoral accord with the PT or the PSDB. Both parties appear to remain open to such an arrangement.

If the PMDB wants to reap the benefits of an agreement with Lula or Alckmin, they’re going to have to reign in Garotinho. If they fail to do so, they will have to face the distinct possibility that the pre-candidate’s actions may indeed expose the party to ridicule.

That shot at the vice presidency might not last, and it will be to the detriment of all involved – the PT and the PSDB included – if the PMDB gets shut out.

Ben Brown is a college student from Boston, Massachusetts, concentrating in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies. To get more news from and commentary on Brazil, visit his website at http://pernambuconews.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at pernambuco.etc@gmail.com.

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