Young Brazilian politicians push for generational change

Although she is just 33 years old, Brazilian politician Shéridan Estérfany Oliveira de Anchieta has already led a full life. 

A former first lady of Roraima, a state in the Brazilian Amazon, she has a 16-year-old daughter about to enter university and was one of the relatively few women to win a seat in federal congress in the last elections in 2014. 

Now she and a group of fellow young legislators from her Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, are bringing their youthful energy to bear on national politics. 

Known as the “cabeça pretas”, loosely translated as “black hairs”, these Young Turks are pressing the cabeça brancas, or white-haired elders of the PSDB, the most important coalition partner of the government of President Michel Temer, to split from the ruling alliance. This comes after the Brazilian president was caught on tape last month allegedly discussing bribes with Joesley Batista, the boss of meatpacker JBS

“This is a party that has never failed Brazil,” Ms Oliveira de Anchieta said in the PSDB’s chambers in the congress in Brasília. 

While the PSDB party power-brokers are so far resisting these calls, the growing disruptive influence of the younger, social media savvy lawmakers in what is one of Brazil`s three most important political parties is a sign of things to come in national politics, analysts say. 

Latin America`s largest country is suffering from a seemingly endless ethical crisis following a sweeping corruption investigation into state-controlled oil company Petrobras and related plea bargains by the country’s largest construction company Odebrecht and meatpacker JBS. 

All of the country’s five recent presidents have been implicated as well as one-third of Mr Temer’s cabinet, one quarter of the senate and a large swath of the congress. JBS said it paid bribes to 1,839 politicians across most parties and regions of Brazil. 

“A generational change is needed,” said Carlos Melo, political scientist at Insper, a business university in São Paulo. “The parties are exhausted, they need to rejuvenate themselves.” 

The PSDB is a good example of this, analysts said. The party`s ageing patriarch, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, was credited with quelling Brazil’s historic economic curse of inflation during the 1990s. 

But these days, the PSDB is embroiled in corruption allegations. In their plea bargain, JBS executives also taped the PSDB’s national leader and former presidential candidate, Senator Aécio Neves, asking for R$2m. Mr Neves claimed the money was for a personal loan not a bribe. He has been suspended from the senate pending investigation. 

Some members of the PSDB are concerned that the Neves scandal and the party’s support for Mr Temer are irrevocably damaging its public image. 

“Today, the PSDB is just another party among many with a number of problems that are very similar to the others,” said Carlos Sampaio, vice-president of the PSDB. 

He said his group wanted the party to leave the government and hand back ministries occupied by PSDB politicians but at the same time continue supporting a reform programme being pushed by Mr Temer in congress. Considered critical by the market, the most important reform is an overhaul of the country`s expensive pension system. 

Mr Sampaio denied the PSDB rebels consisted only of the “black hairs”. Aged in his 50s, Mr Sampaio by his own admission can no longer be classed as a youth. 

But the perception among others in the congress is that the PSDB’s younger politicians are the most passionate dissenters. Ten of the PSDB’s 46 members of the lower house are under 40 and four are under 20, the most of any party. 

“The PSDB has a large group of young lawmakers who are highly influenced by social media and this sometimes creates instability in the party,” said Arthur Maia, the rapporteur of the pension reform and a Temer ally from the PPS party. 

While these younger politicians are a sign of the future, analysts warn wholesale change will take several election cycles. 

A study by website Congressoemfoco found that 85 per cent of the house’s 23 legislators aged under 30 had family political connections. In addition, one in four were already facing judicial processes for “illegalities” allegedly committed during elections or their mandate. 

Indeed, Ms Oliveira de Anchieta has also had her fair share of controversy. The public prosecutors’ office in her home state of Roraima in the Brazilian Amazon has brought several actions against her and her ex-husband, former Roraima state governor José de Anchieta Júnior. 

These include allegations they spent nearly R$40,000 of public money using the state’s official Lear jet to fly in a funk musician, MC Sapão, or Big Frog, from Rio de Janeiro for Ms Oliveira de Anchieta’s birthday party in 2010. She denies any wrongdoing. 

“I don’t see this process of rejuvenation coming in the next election,” said Mr Melo of Insper of the expected generational change in politics. “This will be a slower process than that.”