PSDB, social movements and impeachment

Image: Caroline Cagnin


Considerations on the book by Fernando Limongi

Those interested in effectively understanding the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff were presented with the book Operation impeachment: Dilma Rousseff and the Brazil of lava Jato (However), detailed in a thought-provoking interview with the author, Fernando Limongi, on the podcast Most Illustrious Conversation. Fernando Limongi's interview brings a rich exposition of the facts of the political crisis and an interpretation that reconstitutes such facts in a pertinent way. At the outset, Fernando Limongi is accurate in dismissing the attribution of the outcome of the impeachment to Dilma's alleged lack of political ability to manage her coalition.

However, despite other convincing points, in this brief text I would like to make a particular thesis more complex in the myriad of constitutive themes of the political crisis of the Dilma government that are analyzed by Fernando Limongi. It deals with the role played by the PSDB, the main opposition party at the time, and by some social movements in the construction of Dilma's impeachment, themes that I recently addressed in my master's thesis, specifically in the fourth chapter, available in the Unicamp repository. Evidently, criticism in no way nullifies the incentive to read Fernando Limongi's book, which also includes the possibility of being convinced to the contrary.

Fernando Limongi's general thesis is that the impeachment occurred for determinately institutional reasons, being a survival strategy of the political elites. According to this view, the PT resembles a scapegoat for the political system to protect itself from Lava Jato. For this reason, Limongi rejects factors such as the anti-PT reaction to the government program and the rejection of policies of “weak reformism” and alleged excessive state interventionism.

In this scenario, it is not surprising that Fernando Limongi makes the diagnosis that the demonstrations “were not decisive”, consisting of mere external pressures that had little threatening effect on the political system. Consequently, according to Limongi, the impeachment did not come from outside the political system, but was stimulated and driven by the Tucana opposition. In summary, for Limongi, the PSDB played an important role in supporting the impeachment – ​​since when Aécio Neves questioned the result – and in stimulating and providing the basis and resources for the impeachment movements (MBL, Revoltados Online and Vem pra Rua).

It is on this theme that some unconvincing points seem to emerge in Fernando Limongi's arguments. His reconstitution of the role of the toucans treats him as cohesive, institutionally articulating the impeachment and with a solid position from the beginning. In addition, his analysis connects the PSDB with the impeachment movements, so that the latter become instrumentalized appendages of the toucans. Finally, his analysis also does not take into account the relationship between the PSDB and the movements for impeachment and the interests voiced by the mass of anti-PT protesters present at the mobilizations, which it is worth remembering were largely voters of the toucans.

How to explain the boos directed at the toucans? How to justify the criticisms of the movements directed at the PSDB in this context? How to analyze the adjectives of cowardice and weakness uttered by leaders and demonstrators? How to interpret that such movements, with the exception of Vem pra Rua, were closer to Jair Bolsonaro and Lava Jato than to the PSDB? It does not seem to me that, in Fernando Limongi's explanatory scheme, we find answers to such questions. On the contrary, the toucan action for impeachment was less orderly and linear than Fernando Limongi exposes.

I would therefore like to contest these theses and propose an alternative perspective. In the first place, the PSDB's position was not very cohesive and the party took a long time to adopt the impeachment, closing a public position late, when Dilma Rousseff's base was already crumbling and Eduardo Cunha took over the front of the opposition. Based on materials collected during my research, I show that the PSDB was internally divided during the political crisis.

I adopt as a starting point André Singer's careful argument, according to which the toucan action was divided into three fronts guided by the main leaders of that context: (a) contestation of the election and new elections, championed by Aécio Neves; (b) alliance with the PMDB and impeachment, adopted by José Serra; (c) betting on Dilma Rousseff's wear and tear until the next elections, a favorable scenario for Geraldo Alckmin.

In fact, these toucan leaders behaved in such a way during the crisis, seeking the most favorable conditions individually. However, there was a deeper division that preceded this one, which I synthesized in the phrase “between letting it bleed or making it bleed”, in reference to the famous expression by Aloysio Nunes. This division pitted a fringe of younger deputies who were energetically anti-PT against the figures of the historic toucanate. Thus, the party as a whole was divided between accepting Dilma Rousseff's impeachment or preserving democratic normality and letting the government erode.

The first option was adopted in an untimely manner by a large part of the Chamber's PSDB supporters, newer toucan members and more linked to anti-PTism – called black-heads by the press. The second, more cautious posture was adopted by most of the historical leaders of the tucanate. Thus, those responsible for maintaining, for most of the time, the party's position were the founding members, more tied to a Tucana party identity – the party's “chiefs”, called white-heads by the press.

In my dissertation, I expose several examples of these divergences: public pressure from the youngest, positions in the press of the historical toucanato, criticism of the actions “the worse, the better” of the members of the Chamber, ideological divergences on how to deal with issues such as human rights, etc. There was, in short, an overlapping of “generational” dissent, related to the ideological profile and identity of the toucans, with internal disputes for influence. Internally, the main Toucan agents in favor of the dismissal were the aecista wing and the politicians of the Chamber, such as Carlos Sampaio and Bruno Araújo. For this reason, it does not seem to me that the PSDB has taken a cohesive stance and that it has encouraged impeachment from the beginning.

It seems to me, in fact, that the toucans, at least until the internal conviction, when the historical leaders adopted the speech in favor of the impeachment, tried to wave their base. It was the same members mentioned above who sought to connect with the social base and establish links with the movements for impeachment, theses rejected by toucans like FHC, José Serra and Aloysio Nunes.

This takes us to the relationship between PSDB and impeachment movements. There were, in fact, dialogues between the PSDB and such movements, especially Vem pra Rua. However, they were political agents apart from the PSDB. What I could see was strong pressure from the MBL and Revoltados Online for the PSDB to adopt impeachment on its agenda. The leaders of such movements strongly accused the PSDB of being cowardly. Janaina Paschoal, who had a direct dialogue with the PSDB in dealing with the legal part of the impeachment, also spoke harshly against the PSDB, saying that the party did not want Dilma Rousseff removed. In initial demonstrations, some toucans participated and spoke, as Fernando Limongi recalled.

Some were even carried on their shoulders and applauded. However, in the last two mobilizations, Aécio Neves and Geraldo Alckmin were harassed and were unable to stay even 30 minutes. When pronounced from the top of sound cars, other names of toucans were booed. Between these two situations, the movements for impeachment played an important role in wearing down the PSDB, in direct harmony with the base of the mobilizations. From this point of view, the relationship between PSDB and impeachment movements is more complex than merely instrumental.

I conclude by pointing out an implication of this perspective. The disregard for the role of the social support base, in direct connection with Lava Jato, and the media siege of the mainstream press against the government overshadows relevant actors in the political process. This devaluation even makes Fernando Limongi postulate the following: with the entire political system affected, even the right and center, “that’s left for Jair Bolsonaro”. However, it is precisely in the vacuum of representation left by the expulsion of the toucans, when the voice of the protesters was still lavajatismo, that Jair Bolsonaro and Bolsonarismo will work meticulously to reach their bases.

Jair Bolsonaro does not appear out of nowhere, but he is gradually gaining ground in mobilizations and on social networks, as shown by the quantitative research I analyzed. However, the formation of Bolsonarism is beyond the scope of this brief comment.

* Arthur Solomon is a doctoral candidate in political science at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

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