Major Parties in Congress

Brazil Table of Contents

In 1995 eight political parties, constituting 89.7 percent of the total membership of the Chamber of Deputies, were considered major parties. Each held more than 5 percent of the Chamber. In 1997 the seven significant parties totaled 92.6 percent.

Progressive Renewal Party

The Progressive Renewal Party (Partido Progressista Renovador--PPR) was organized by the fusion of the PDS (Democratic Social Party) and the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrático Cristão--PDC) in April 1993. After the Workers' Party, the PPR has the most consistent ideology. It generally supports the interests of business and rural landlords. It has a radical position in favor of privatization, economic modernization, and reduction of the state's role in the economy. In 1994 the PPR elected three governors, two senators, and fifty-three federal deputies. The PPR contributed one minister (health) to Cardoso's cabinet, but the party does not automatically support government positions in Congress. In 1995 Paulo Maluf remained the main leader of the PPR, which attempted to form a bloc with the Progressive Party. In mid-September 1995, Maluf merged the PPR with the Progressive Party to form the Brazilian Progressive Party (Partido Progressista Brasileiro--PPB).

Brazilian Democratic Movement Party

The Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro--MDB), the political opposition to the military regime, began mobilizing national support in the late 1970s. Like the PTB (Brazilian Labor Party) in the early 1960s, the MDB was on the verge of becoming a mass political party when Congress dissolved it in 1979. The party president, Deputy Ulysses Guimarães, convinced the party to "add a P to the MDB" to preserve the hard-fought opposition image.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro--PMDB) won nine governorships in 1982 and elected Tancredo Neves in the electoral college of January 1985 in alliance with the PFL. The centrist PMDB advanced to become the "catch-all, rainbow" party, electing a majority to the ANC (National Constituent Assembly), and all but one governor in 1986. Overloaded with joiners (many of whom migrated from the Arena/PDS), the PMDB acquired a more conservative profile, provided a base for the Big Center in the ANC, and projected an image of close collaboration with the Sarney government. These tendencies provoked the exodus of the more progressive members, such as the PSDB, in 1988. The party was less successful in the congressional and gubernatorial elections in 1988 and 1990, but made a slight comeback in the 1992 municipal elections.

In 1994 the PMDB's presidential candidate, former governor Orestes Quêrcia, placed fourth. Nevertheless, the PMDB managed to elect nine governors and remained the largest party in Congress, electing fourteen senators and 107 federal deputies. The PMDB had two important ministries (transport and justice), plus the Secretariat of Regional Development (now subordinate to the Ministry of Planning) in the Cardoso government. With the defeat of Quêrcia and the loss of São Paulo State, the party has no coherent national leadership, and the support of its sizable congressional delegation is uncertain. In 1997 the PMDB became the second largest party in Congress, losing its first-rank position to the PFL.

Liberal Front Party

A manifesto signed by three governors, ten senators, and sixty federal deputies in December 1984 officially launched the center-right Liberal Front Party (Partido da Frente Liberal--PFL). In the January 15, 1985, electoral college, the PMDB-Liberal Front-PDS ticket of Tancredo Neves and José Sarney received the votes of 102 federal deputies, fifteen senators, and fifty-one delegates still nominally affiliated with the PDS. In 1985 the PFL became the second largest party in Congress. It received a mere 8.8 percent of the votes in the municipal elections of November 1985, but when Sarney was able to reform the cabinet inherited from Tancredo Neves in February 1986, the PFL received six ministries. In 1992 the PFL elected nearly 1,000 mayors, second only to the PMDB.

Although the PFL is noted for its neoliberal ideology, it is always predisposed to pragmatic bargaining, such as in 1994, when it abstained from running its own presidential candidate and joined with the PSDB and PTB. Although it elected only two governors, it remained the second largest party in Congress, electing eleven senators and eighty-nine federal deputies (57 percent from the Northeast), in addition to the vice president. In Congress the PFL is known to have the most articulate and cohesive delegation, on a par with the Workers' Party. As a Cardoso coalition partner, the PFL received three ministries in 1995. It became the first-ranked party in 1997.

Brazilian Labor Party

The Brazilian Labor Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro--PTB), a pre-1964 leftist party, was resurrected as center-rightist in 1980. Two factions--one led by Leonel Brizola and the other led by Ivette Vargas--vied for leadership of the PTB. Although twenty of the twenty-three federal deputies who originally joined the PTB were brizolistas , Ivette Vargas was allied with General Golbery do Couto e Silva, chief of Ernesto Geisel's Civil Household of the Presidency, who pressured the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) to give the label to Vargas's pro-government faction in May 1980.

The PTB elected thirteen deputies in 1982 and became the junior member in a coalition with the PDS to give the latter a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1986 the PTB elected seventeen federal deputies, and in 1990 it elected two governors, four senators, and thirty-eight federal deputies. The party became a convenient election vehicle for politicians without space in the larger parties.

In 1994 the PTB formed a coalition with the PFL and PSDB in support of Cardoso's candidacy. In that election, the PTB elected one governor, three senators, and thirty-one federal deputies--a slightly worse record than in 1990. In 1995 the PTB remained loyal to its coalition with the PSDB and PFL in support of the Cardoso government and occupied two ministries.

Democratic Labor Party

Brizola founded the social democratic-oriented Democratic Labor Party (Partido Democrático Trabalhista--PDT) in May 1980 after losing the PTB label to Ivette Vargas. Over the ensuing fifteen years, many PDT members migrated to other parties. In 1990 the PDT elected three governors (Brizola included), five senators, and forty-seven federal deputies and became the third largest party in Congress. In 1994 Brizola placed fifth for president and was defeated by Enéas Carneiro in Rio de Janeiro, thus ending his forty-seven-year political career. The PDT elected only two governors, four senators, and thirty-three federal deputies that year.

Despite his massive defeat in 1994, Brizola refused to relinquish personal control of the party and tried to impose a systematic opposition posture on the congressional delegation, although the two PDT governors favored a more flexible position vis-à-vis the Cardoso government. Both the very dynamic governor of Paraná, Jaime Lerner, and Dante de Oliveira, governor of Mato Grosso, left the PDT in 1997.

Workers' Party

The Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores--PT), the country's first independent labor party, is a unique party in Brazil. Organized externally (outside Congress) from the grassroots up and based on the new trade unionism in São Paulo in 1979, the Workers' Party initially did not want any professional politicians or students in its ranks. However, to have a voice in Congress it accepted five deputies and one senator into its ranks in early 1980. Since then the Workers' Party has grown steadily, doubling its Chamber of Deputies delegation in 1982, 1986, and 1990, while tripling the number of its state deputies at each election, except in 1994. It has also won mayorships in several cities, including São Paulo (1988).

The Workers' Party is divided into six factions along a left-right continuum. The right consists of Radical Democracy (Democracia Radical), which has a social-democratic orientation. The center consists of Unity and Struggle (Unidade e Luta), Catholic militants, and members of the right wing of Lula da Silva's former Articulation (Articulação) faction. The left consists of Option of the Left (Opção de Esquerda), which is divided into two subgroups--Hour of Truth (Hora da Verdade), the dissident left wing of the former Articulation group, former Stalinists, and Castroites; and Socialist Democracy (Democracia Socialista), the largest Trotskyite group, which existed before the Workers' Party. The extreme left consists of Workers' Party in the Struggle (Na Luta PT), which is divided into two subgroups--Socialist Force (Força Socialista), whose members are former militants from extreme left guerrilla groups from the 1960s: the People's Electoral Movement (Movimento Eleitoral do Povo--MEP) and Popular Action (Ação Popular--AP); and The Work (O Trabalho), consisting of Trotskyites from two student movements of the 1970s--Freedom (Liberdade) and Struggle (Luta).

Until 1993 Lula's moderate Articulation group had a large absolute majority in the Workers' Party. This group conducted pragmatic coalition-building in the 1990 and 1992 elections, which resulted in the election of increasing numbers of deputies and city council members. However, in 1993 the extreme left and left elected an absolute majority (53 percent) of the national party directorate, took control, and imposed stricter criteria for coalition-building at the state level. In 1995 and 1997, the Articulation faction was again elected to the party presidency.

Brazilian Social Democracy Party

A center-left group of the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) organized the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira--PSDB) in June 1988. Many of these PMDB members were associated with the Progressive Unity Movement (Movimento de Unidade Progressista--MUP). They had become discontented with the rainbow party, with the PMDB's participation in the conservative Big Center during the National Constituent Assembly, and especially with the politics of President Sarney. The principal leaders of the new party were from São Paulo, including Senator Cardoso (PMDB floor leader in the Senate).

The PSDB adopted a modernizing, social-democratic program and favored a parliamentary system of government. In 1988 it became the third largest delegation in Congress, although it elected only eighteen mayors that year (including Belo Horizonte).

The PSDB occupied three ministries in the Franco cabinet, including Senator Cardoso at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In May 1993, Cardoso moved to the Ministry of Finance, where he launched the Real Plan for economic stabilization in March 1994. With other major parties already engaged in different presidential alliances, the PSDB opted for a coalition with the more conservative PFL and PTB in the 1994 elections. The adoption of the new Real currency and the resulting near-zero inflation greatly boosted Cardoso's presidential candidacy in July and August and guaranteed his first-round victory with a margin of 54.3 percent on October 3. The PSDB also elected six governors (including Ceará, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro), nine senators, and sixty-two deputies, a much better performance than in 1990 (see General Elections, 1994, this ch). The Social Democrats occupied six ministries, including the powerful ministries of Planning, Finance, and Civil Household of the Presidency, in the Cardoso government.

Progressive Party

The Progressive Party (Partido Progressista--PP) grew out of the PTR (Workers' Renewal Party). In 1990 the PTR and the Social Workers' Party (Partido Social Trabalhista--PST) had elected just two federal deputies each. The new Progressive Party had thirty-seven deputies in 1993, and by 1994 had grown to forty-five, the fifth largest delegation in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1995 the Progressive Party became leaderless, with no clear political strategy. Thus, it merged with the PPR (Progressive Renewal Party) to form the PPB (Brazilian Progressive Party).

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress