Transformation or Substitution? The Workers’ Party and the Right in Northeast Brazil

Jorge Antonio Alves


One of the most significant recent changes in Brazilian politics is the inroads made by the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) and other leftist parties into state and municipal governments in the country’s most conservative region, the Northeast. An important strand of literature argues that this is due to a transformative strategy anchored in institutional growth, which is based on opening local party directorates. In contrast, this analysis shows that the PT has made gains in the region by segmenting its strategy – that is, by focusing on two well-established political practices. First, the PT has leveraged executive office at higher levels of government (e.g., federal and state) in order to advance at lower levels (e.g., state and municipal). Second, it has constructed pragmatic alliances with opportunistic parties, thus revealing how the migration of opportunist politicians into allied parties allowed entrenched elites to remain in power. This suggests that the Left’s subnational advances are less transformative than they seem and could potentially harm democratic consolidation.

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