“Brazil is not for amateurs” is a common saying in Brazil regarding the, let us say, dynamic political environment. Some might even say Brazilian politics would provide a good script for a season of House of Cards. In this context, we need experts to speak about political complexities from a broader perspective. In this interview, this is how Prof. Dr. Silvana Krause enlightens us about the Brazilian electoral system, the ban on corporate donations, and the 2022 elections.
I dearly thank Silvana for the insightful interview and her support & encouragement. I also thank Bruno Marques for conducting the interview. Last but never least, I am so glad to work with the wonderful BRaS-Blog team, and especially thank Giovanna Imbernon for the incredible translation-edition partner she is. It is another must-read, enjoy!
Anna Paula Bennech
Edited and reviewed by Anna Paula Bennech and Giovanna Imbernon
Interviewee: Prof. Dr. Silvana Krause
Interviewer: M.A. Bruno Marques Schaefer*
Silvana Krause holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Katholische Universität Eichstätt – Ingolstadt (Germany, 2003). Currently, she is Associate Professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and coordinates an academic exchange project CAPES-DAAD (UFRGS and Julius Maximilians Universität-Würzburg, Germany, JMU). She was Visiting Professor at Katholische Universität Eichtstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany, 2009/2010) of [the discipline of] Brazilian Politics [at] – ZILAS (Zentral Institut für Lateinamerika Studie) and Chair of International Politics, in the Programa de Posgrado en Ciencia Política/Universidad Nacional de Rosario (Argentina, 2012); and in the Chair of Comparative Politics and Political Systems at JMU (2013). She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Council of the Institut für Deutsches und Internationales Parteienrecht und Parteienforschung (Henirich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf – Institute for International Studies on Parties and Party Law). Her experience in Political Science is focused on Political Parties and Electoral Studies. Her main research topics are political parties and new political parties, electoral coalitions, party financing, electoral behavior, and campaign strategies.
The 2020 Brazilian municipal elections took place during the new Coronavirus pandemic, a national economic crisis, and several institutional changes. From your point of view, what is your evaluation of those elections? Among the political parties, can you point out “winners” and “losers”? What is the impact of that dispute on Brazilian democracy and the presidential elections of 2022?
For many people, it was an utterly atypical election. However, we need to be careful because every election is atypical. We always see something new. In 2020, the pandemic undoubtedly brought a variable, almost decisive to voters’ behavior. There was a wave of adventurous leaderships in the previous elections, a wave of (new) conservative or right-wing parties, as you prefer. One imagined that those parties and that wave would still be around in 2020. There is not a doubt the pandemic has created, somehow, a “reverse wave.” Why? We see some well-known conservative parties coming back. DEM  (Democrats) was a big surprise. Since PT  (Workers’ Party) came into the spotlight, DEM started losing ground after being portrayed as a “big problem” in Brazilian politics, connected to oligarchies in the Northeast and pointed out as the backward-looking portion of the country. As of PT’s prominence in the nineties, and, especially in the 21st century, DEM was led – surprisingly – to modernization. DEM renewed itself, unlike other traditional right-wing parties, such as PP  (Progressive Party), which opted for an alliance with PT, also at a national level. It has not only formed new leadership but also technically prepared ones. Some Municipal Environment Departments in Bahia are doing a very good job with DEM. The party’s leaderships were renewed, recycled. This phenomenon caught my attention in 2020. While PP allied with the PT government, DEM firmly remained as a party with a right-wing program. Not an extremist right party but rather a traditional one. This strategy drew my attention to the fact that DEM can recover.
Meanwhile, parties that arose with a whole new discourse and new inexperienced leaders were not as successful. I think it is important to notice that the new right has shown us it still has a lot to learn about the Brazilian political competition. The 2020 elections also showed the main role of professionalization in politics, mainly for the traditional right-wing. On the other hand, professionalized left-wing parties, such as PT, had immense difficulty renewing themselves. In this election, the party presented candidates with a long political career but without much popular appeal. It was not able to convince voters nor made room for new leaderships launched by other parties, such as the PSOL  (Socialism and Freedom Party). I think we need to be very careful with the effects of the new rules. As I always say, one must concern about political engineering. We may have many expectations about the prohibition of proportional coalitions and corporate financing . However, we need a systemic view to examine it. Even if one fights corporate money, it might make room for other schemes; slush funds will continue to work the same way. Forbidding it or not will not ensure slush fund to end. Good political engineering acknowledges that there is no point in banning corporate donations when not associated with other variables, such as open list  and the possibility of direct financing of candidates instead of parties.
Forbidding corporate donations and other related measures, established by resolutions of the Superior Electoral Court, compromise funding. However, there is still high and persistent demand in a political system like the Brazilian: proportional and with open lists. It is also relevant how parties spend their funds, considering that many studies show that parties tend to finance candidates who are political insiders, “barring” renewals. Thus, I would like to know your thoughts on these two aspects: the demand for funding and how parties design their distribution strategies.
We need to think about electoral financing and, as you mentioned, starting from the constitutional principle. The Constitution (1988) gave much freedom for parties to distribute the public funds received; it is a normative issue. Nevertheless, public funds must be distributed according to the regulations because, otherwise, what can end up happening? It turns into private funding of the party leadership. Conversely, there would be other problems, such as limiting the parties’ freedom to define their strategies. However, I believe that their strategies should be defined based on private, and not public, funding.
The direct relationship between patron-candidate is another problem. Companies, or other donors, invest in candidates individually, and the party has no control over it. This framework is an incentive for personalized careers, which do not help the organization. Moreover, the ban on corporate donations did not cope with the concentration of investors in politics. Large company owners keep investing in campaigns – although, now, as individuals and not on behalf of their companies – but few sectors get directly involved in politics. I know that it is difficult to convince people to donate for campaigns in a country with such an anti-politics culture. However, more people and companies must participate so there is a more balanced competition between interests, as it is legitimate for those economic interests to be politically represented.
This anti-political political culture in Brazil somehow favors “under the table” deals, corruption? For example, lobbying is still not regulated, leading the relationship between economic and political powers to become non-transparent when, as you said, they are legitimate. In this sense, both transparency and competition should be encouraged. Besides the ban on corporate donations, Brazil has had a series of institutional changes in recent years, such as the end of proportional coalitions, political threshold, more restrictions on party migration, increased funding for black and female candidates. Which changes do you see as a positive effect on Brazilian democracy?
It all depends on how parties organize internally. For instance, the enlarged resources for female candidates had a different effect on parties. In PSDB  (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), which has a women’s wing, the women’s board had absolute control over the public resources received, unlike other parties. In other organizations, we had a series of “laranjas.”  Once again, the same legislation may originate different outcomes, according to the political actors. While parties without women had a series of scandals, other parties complied with the law, especially when having women’s groups.
We should also consider how much parties can “resist” the entry of adventurous leaders. In Brazil, as in the United States, there was an anti-politics and anti-establishment wave with electoral effects. However, this seems to be changing. Biden’s victory – a traditional politician – points out that parties can still exercise some control over the nomination process of candidates. The Republicans, by contrast, have not been able to handle Trump. After all, waves come and go, and the parties must be prepared; it is a very big challenge.
In the pandemic context, the responses of anti-establishment leaders, populists, outsiders, or what one may prefer to call them, were very bad compared to governments led by traditional politicians. Biden’s victory also demonstrates, at some level, the return of this traditional politics. In parallel, in Brazil, we had an unprecedented number of re-elected mayors in 2020. Do all these phenomena demonstrate a way forward? What is the impact of this “return” of politicians when considering Bolsonaro’s succession in 2022?
Regarding Bolsonaro’s succession in 2022, I think the right-wing is competing for space, and the left-wing is out of the game. Bolsonaro managed to unify the right-wing in 2018 with his anti-PT speech, and the 2022 unifying force may be the anti-Bolsonaro discourse. However, the question remains: Who will be Bolsonaro’s nemesis? It seems that this name will not emerge from the left. On the right, there are Luciano Huck , João Dória , among others. I think that political professionalization will be an important matter, as the candidate will need an “initiation.” Adventurers seem to be getting lost.
Changing the topic but keeping an eye on comparison and its possibilities. Given your experience abroad as Visiting Professor in other countries (Argentina, Germany) and as a member of the Board of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Brazil, how do you see initiatives of international integration and networking of researchers, such as BRaS, in the sense of further deepening and debating issues related to Brazil? Based on your experience, how has the “outside look” helped your academic and professional career?
First, this initiative [BRaS] is fundamental, essential for a new generation. This interaction with other political systems is enriching, making us understand other cultures, other ways of finding solutions to challenges. As of the late nineties, Brazil started this tradition of intensifying the internationalization of Political Science. However, from my perspective, this process is very much centered on the United States, whereas other perspectives of Political Science are also rich, especially the German one. This approach values a historical perspective of social and political phenomena, while American Political Science, from my point of view, does not pay attention to it.
In any case, I think that this exchange is essential. It is a pity that things are slow now, with all the economic crises we are experiencing. In my experience, participating, holding a scholarship from a German foundation, being in touch with different schools (conservative and liberal) was an eye-opener. It helped me rethink and strip away a little of the values that we, as young people, had from the 80’s left-wing. Also, to further relativize the deep-rooted beliefs that we only have the same exits. This opportunity was excellent because I could live and interact with young people, all kinds of identification: cultural, political, ideological, etc. Unfortunately, youth today seem very polarized. Here, in Brazil, it is very polarized. I learned a lot from the debates in Germany, with different concerns, different perspectives. You have to have this in mind, that “politics is the art of the possible.”
 Democratas, in Portuguese. It emerged in 1985, amid Brazil’s political transition and democratization process.
 Partido dos Trabalhadores, in Portuguese. Created in 1979, it has polarized Brazilian politics, especially in presidential elections, since 1989. In 2002, it won the presidency with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In 2016, President Dilma Rousseff, also elected by the party, was impeached.
 Partido Progressista, in Portuguese. Right-wing and conservative party.
 Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, in Portuguese. This party emerged from a split with PT.
 Between 1994 and 2014, Brazil allowed corporate donations, when a few companies concentrated almost all the resources distributed to candidates and parties. In 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court declared this kind of donation unconstitutional because it limited electoral competition.
 The term describes the Brazilian electoral system’s characteristics regarding legislative positions’ election (federal, state, and city council members). It happens through a proportional system with an open list, which means the parties do not preordain the list of candidates.
 Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, in Portuguese. The main party organization in opposition to the PT’s governments (2003-2016).
 Term for candidacies that receive funds officially but, in practice, reallocate them for other purposes. Similar to Straw man.
 TV host, currently without party affiliation.
 Governor of the state of São Paulo (PSDB).
* Bruno Marques Schaefer is a Political Science Substitute Professor and Ph.D. candidate at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). He holds a degree in Social Sciences and a Master’s degree in Political Science from UFRGS. His research interests encompass Legislative Studies and Political Parties. He is also a columnist of politics and institutions at Nuances Blog, a volunteer teacher at the Curso Pré-Vestibular Popular Liberato Salzano (preparation course for university entrance exam), and was a consultant for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Brazil for research on political parties. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.