Party federation – the PT debate

Isaac Witkin, Baalbec, 1968


Building a federation to strengthen the programmatic identity of the left

The debate over the possibility of party federations for the 2022 elections has heated up in recent days. The PSB consulted deputies from its federal bench and also the presidencies of state directories about the possibility of federating with PT, PCdoB, Psol and PV, with a large majority in favor. The National Executive of Psol decided to open dialogues with PCdoB and Rede. The position of the PDT – it is not known until when – is not to federate. In the field on the right, Citizenship and PSDB must form a federation. PSL and DEM have already created the União Brasil. The PT decided in a meeting of its National Board that it will start talks with PSB, PCdoB, Psol and PV.

The question for the left and for the PT is not whether we are going to federate, but with whom and how to federate. This task is fundamental and strategic for our goal of electing Lula and stopping the conservative, authoritarian and neoliberal reaction of Bolsonarism.


What will be the party federations?

Law 14.208/21 provides that two or more parties may come together in a federation, which will act as if it were a party association, that is, apply to the federation all the rules regarding the functioning of parties in parliaments and party loyalty. It will have its own programme, statute and operating rules. On the other hand, the law also provides for the preservation of the identity and autonomy of the component parties of the federation. That is, the parties will keep their colors, legend number, internal organization, statutes and internal regulations

The scope of the federations is national and their duration is at least four years. The penalties for withdrawing during this period are as follows: prohibition to join another federation, prohibition to enter into a coalition in the two following elections, and prohibition to use the party fund until the end of the period foreseen for the term of the federation.

To party federations, they apply to the choice and registration of candidates for majority and proportional elections, the collection and application of resources in electoral campaigns, electoral propaganda, vote counting, obtaining seats, rendering of accounts and summoning of alternates, as is textually in the law.


The Brazilian party and electoral system and recent changes

The Brazilian party system is the most fragmented in the world. In 2018, deputies from 30 parties were elected. By the party dispersion index formulated by political scientists Marku Laakso and Rein Taagepera, which identifies the “effective” number of parties – which takes the size of each bench in relation to the total number of seats in parliaments and the other benches – we have 16,4 parties . This number of parties reinforces the commerce of support in elections and in Congress, makes the relationship between the ideological position of the electorate and the vote difficult, deepens the bossism in politics and the general rejection of political parties.

However, electoral legislation has been changing and responding to the need to seek a party and electoral system that is less predatory of public resources and less confusing. This is largely due to sectors of civil society[I] who insist on believing that there is a direct relationship between the organization of the arena of political dispute and its results. With them, I believe that institutional changes can bring about political changes. And this also concerns the left and its task of transforming Brazil.

List below the main legislative innovations in the last period and that provide the context in which the party federations are inserted.

(1) end of proportional coalitions: it occurred after the approval of Constitutional Amendment 97/2017 and we had our first experience with it in 2020, in the municipal elections. Proportional coalitions were occasional contracts, made between parties with or without ideological affinity. They only lasted for the election period. Afterwards, they meant nothing. We could vote for the PT candidate and help elect a candidate affiliated with right-wing parties, as happened in several municipalities in the past decade.

(2) barrier clause: also a result of EC 97/2017. It establishes that parties will only be entitled to party fund resources and free access to radio and television parties if they have a minimum performance in previous elections. To continue having these accesses, the parties must have at least 2% of the valid votes in 2022, distributed in at least one third of the Federation units, with a minimum of 1% of the valid votes in each of them, or they must elect at least 11 federal deputies distributed in at least one third of the units of the Federation. This clause will be expanded in 2026 (2,5% or 13 deputies) and 2030 (3% or 15 deputies). For this reason, parties such as Rede, PV, Patriota, Cidadania, PCdoB, Avante, Novo, Psol and PROS will necessarily have to form federations, since, if they remain isolated, they run a great risk of not having access to the party fund.

(3) electoral leftovers: Law 14.211/21 changed the rule for the dispute over electoral leftovers. In the proportional election system for parliaments, the sum of the valid votes for the candidates and the parties' captions are added together and then divided by the seats in dispute. The result is called the electoral quotient. Until 2020 it happened like this: let's assume that the electoral quotient in a given election is 20.000 votes. If party X has 65.000 votes, it will have 3 seats and 5.000 “leftover” votes. If party Y has only 15.000 votes, it has not reached the electoral quotient, but it can run for the remainder and will have a good chance of electing at least one candidate.

From 2022 onwards, what will happen is the following: vacancies for leftovers can only be contested by parties that get at least 80% of the electoral quotient, that is, in the example above, party Y would no longer compete for leftovers. Furthermore, these hypothetical 15.000 votes will also be added to the surplus. Therefore, the new rule will strengthen the position of the parties with large votes and of the federations that may be formed, as the leftovers will fill many more vacancies.

There is one more important alteration regarding the leftovers: only male and female candidates who obtain votes equal to or greater than 20% of the electoral quotient will be able to dispute the vacancies of the leftovers. That is, in our example where the electoral quotient is 20.000 votes, only those who obtain 4.000 votes will be able to dispute the vacancies.

(4) registration of candidates: Law 14.211/21 also changed the number of candidates who may run for election. Before, it was possible for up to 150% of people to be candidates, in relation to the disputed seats. That is, if 20 seats were up for grabs, each party could present up to 30 candidates. this has been changed and in 2022 the rule will apply that the ceiling of candidates must be 100% plus 1 of the seats in dispute, that is, in our example, only 21 candidates.

How to evaluate these changes? They cause the voter to be more attached to the political project of the candidate's party. They try to make the system more rational in the sense of reducing the “alphabet soup” of the subtitles and provoking a greater identification of the place in the political spectrum occupied by the parties, whether on the left, center or right. They reduce the number of male and female candidates, which will demand that they be more representative, that there be greater internal discussion for the composition of candidate lists, under penalty of increasing party oligarchization.


The federation we need to build

The National Directorate of the PT decided to initiate talks on the party federation with the PSB, PCdoB, Psol and PV, based on a programmatic debate, and with an internal debate at the party's bases in the states and municipalities.

The incentives for creating party federations are many. Changes in electoral rules are leading to a decrease in party fragmentation. We are going to have fewer parties and that inevitably leads to greater ideological clarity for the electorate. This environment will facilitate the construction of larger, more nationalized, and more internally diversified parties. And it will diminish the incentives to create and maintain small parties, slot machines. PT fought hard for this and needs to be part of this process.

A federation with the PT as a member, due to its national political weight, will inevitably have it as its main component. Thus, the party has a great responsibility for coordinating the federation's basic program, as well as its statute and operating rules. But, of course, like any self-respecting federation, this is a process that must be carried out with great capacity for dialogue and collective construction, internally to the PT and also with the other parties.

The campaign for the election of Lula and the end of the Bolsonarist scourge will greatly benefit from a left-wing federation. It must be the first unifying pole of social and political forces that will sustain the red wave that is already forming for the resumption of construction of a fair, diverse and democratic country. Even with the greatness of the PT and its strength on the left, if we are alone we will not be able to govern and transform this country. Our tasks are even greater than those we had from 2002 onwards.

The federation, of course, has not only positive aspects. In some states and municipalities we will certainly have disagreements with the other parties that come to make up the federation. They need to be overcome based on a shared program. To the left and right of the PT's average position, we have disagreements with parliamentarians from the parties identified as possible components of our federation (PSB, PCdoB, PSol and PV).

Despite this, PT militancy throughout Brazil needs to be added to the task of resuming the federal government and creating political conditions for Lula to govern. We need to focus on rebuilding everything that Bolsonaro and his militias have been destroying. This is our main mission for the next four years, starting in 2023. We are in a war against conservatism, authoritarianism and neoliberalism and we need to defeat Bolsonaro and Moro!

How the PT and the parties of our federation will coexist is a task to be built quickly and with a lot of political imagination, because time is short and Bolsonaro's defeat is for yesterday. The programmatic debate is crucial and it needs to be strongly anti-neoliberal, to reinforce participatory democracy and the role of the State in guaranteeing fundamental rights, to build ecosocialism and the ecological transition, to resume our project of national sovereignty and unity of peoples Latin Americans and that guarantees equal rights for women, black men and women, indigenous people, the LGBTQIA+ community.

Building our federation and strengthening the programmatic identity of the left is a necessary political task for the PT in the coming months.

*Wagner Romao he is a professor of political science at Unicamp and a member of the PT-Campinas Municipal Board.



[I] A great lighthouse in this regard is the Platform of Social Movements for the Reform of the Political System (, in action since 2004.

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