The issue of small parties

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By FABIANO SANTOS*

An analysis of the causes of recent party fragmentation in Brazil

One of the main problems in Brazilian politics concerns the party system. Election after election, especially those held for the Chamber of Deputies, analysts have shown an increase in fragmentation. The explosion in the number of parties, in particular, takes place from 2006-2010, reversing a historical trend – noted since the transition from the dictatorship to the New Republic – of concentration of party forces around a few clusters, of some political groupings. Fragmentation increased from 2010 to 2014 and, very significantly, from 2014 to 2018.

Fragmentation is a technical name used in political science to designate the degree of dispersion of political forces – which can signal problems of governance, ability to organize coalitions, consistency in the decision-making process. As this is an important topic in political science, now, in the local election, there is a lot of curiosity to know, after all, what is the origin of this fragmentation, how it is distributed in the regions, in the country, in short, if it has origin in the political life of the municipalities.

The municipal elections thus constitute a significant experiment in examining the trajectory of the Brazilian political system, in analyzing what its process is and how the parties are organizing around it. I would like to draw attention to an important aspect for the investigation of the problem of fragmentation, which is the geographical issue.

Some studies carried out more recently show that fragmentation has a lot to do with small parties. If there is a lot of fragmentation, it is because the big parties have little hegemonic power, which leads to a great dispersion for medium and small parties. In this line of research, there is an outstanding concern with rental parties, small parties, parties that are created from one hour to the next and are dismantled at a very high speed, which only exist for electoral moments and for negotiations.

When observing the geography of fragmentation, it is possible to notice a very interesting fact. The center-right parties – the PSDB, the DEM, the PMDB, the PP – are very strong in coastal Brazil, in traditional Brazil, in Brazil from the Colony onwards, in Brazil that became industrialized. And there is a lot of fragmentation and small, dwarf, peripheral parties in other regions, that is, far from the South, Southeast and a certain strip of the Northeast, which is more coastal.

When you examine it with a magnifying glass, when you look at the local elections for the legislative assemblies and then for the Chamber of Councilors and for the city halls, you notice a great fragmentation, the presence in the local disputes of a great number of peripheral parties that do not have even representation in the Chamber of Deputies. This happens especially, and more strongly, in the Midwest region, in the North region and in a part of the Northeast.

Thus, it is worth highlighting two very important things in local elections. How are these fragmentations distributed in elections for city halls and city councils? Is the geographical distribution homogeneous throughout the country? My suspicion is that no. We are going to observe once again the peripheral, dwarf parties, without national expression, having representation in these border regions, which are relatively recent regions in Brazilian geography.

The other aspect to be highlighted is the ideological distribution of this fragmentation. We have to start from the following hypothesis: what is the importance of these parties – not very expressive from a national point of view – for the field of the political right. After all, the same thing is not reflected in the left field, which has a certain hegemony of the PT, has the PSB, has the PDT competing, and now the PSOL.

We thus have two main hypotheses regarding fragmentation to be examined in computing local election results. First, its geographic distribution, to verify if there is more fragmentation, or rather, a fragmentation induced by the presence of more dwarf parties, in the border regions. The second consists of verifying whether this dispersion of peripheral parties is due to the limited capacity of traditional right-wing parties to penetrate these regions. In this case, it is a phenomenon that pertains mainly to the right and its various formats than to the other forces of the center-left and the left.

* Fabiano Santos He is a professor at the Institute of Social and Political Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP-UERJ), where he coordinates the Center for Studies on Congress (NECON).

Text established from testimony for the 2020 Election Observatory of the Institute of Democracy and Democratization of Communication (INCT/IDDC).

 

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