When you already have 35 political parties, what’s 63 more?

By Samantha Pearson


The list of hopefuls includes the Brazilian Military Party (which wants to privatize prisons), the Christian Ecological Party (they worry about despoiling God’s planet), and the Sport Party (which demands more gymnasiums).

Nicole Puzzi, an animal-rights activist and popular soft-core porn star from the 1970s, is one of the 102 vegans who helped launch the Animals Party. Among the group’s policy proposals: Cracking down on illegal dog breeders and changing animals’ legal status so they have the same rights as children.

“Being a politician in Brazil is even more of a scandalous profession than mine,” says Ms. Puzzi, 59, clad in knee-high boots and a white lace bodysuit on the set of her TV talk

show in downtown São Paulo.

She doesn’t want to actually run for office herself. “Whenever I go to Brasília, people there just try to take me to bed,” she says, referring to offers she has received from politicians in the capital.

Over the past year, a deluge of 63 wannabe political parties have jumped in line to get official status that would allow them to put up candidates for office. Some are hoping to become official in time for the general elections in October next year.

Brazil provides generous public funding for political parties and has put few rules in place so far to limit the creation of new ones, partly in a bid to foster the country’s young democracy. Parties have proliferated as a result.

The majority of would-be party founders are ordinary people angry about Brazilian politics who figure they couldn’t do any worse than the politicians now in office.

Under current rules, parties automatically receive about $30,000 of taxpayers’ money per month— $360,000 a year—once they are approved by the electoral court, and a bonus for each member elected to Congress.

Brazil’s largest parties are seeking to change those rules in a bid to protect their turf. Congress is set to vote as early as Wednesday on a constitutional amendment that would effectively reduce the number of political parties in Brazil by allowing funding only after they have elected a minimum number of lawmakers.

Political scientists say the country’s problem is too many parties. With 35 official political parties in existence, and 26 of them represented in Congress, most lawmakers just spend their time coalition-building.

“It’s become a joke but really it’s a tragedy,” says Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

One of the parties hoping to get registered for next year’s presidential election was formed by Juan Moreno, 40, a burly gas station owner from the beach town of Ubatuba.

Like most of his countrymen, he’s livid about corruption so widespread that a third of all members of Congress are under investigation, mostly for graft but a couple for rape and attempted homicide—allegations they have denied, except in a few cases involving minor infractions.

Mr. Moreno is also obsessed with soccer.

To combine both passions, he founded the National Corinthians Party in 2014, after his beloved São Paulo soccer club, Corinthians.

Since then he has enlisted the help of his mom, his wife and hordes of soccer fans to prowl the streets with clipboards to gather the exactly 486,679 signatures required to become an official party in Brazil. He’s got more than 400,000 and he has less than two months to collect the rest in time for the 2018 vote.

The next step is persuading Tite, the coach of Brazil’s national soccer team, to run for president of the republic. “Can you imagine that?!” Mr. Moreno said, wide-eyed at the prospect, on a recent visit to the party’s São Paulo headquarters in a run-down shopping mall.

Many aspiring parties don’t seem overly concerned with ideology beyond the cause suggested by their names. Mr. Moreno’s Corinthians Party doesn’t have any policies yet or official positions. “Abortion, homosexuality, blah blah, the masses don’t discuss that,” he says.

Other platforms are painstakingly specific, though few seem to offer solutions for the country’s deeply troubled state of government finances or other big problems. Some of the potential parties are focused entirely on single issues, such as the struggles of indigenous tribes, slum-dwellers and disabled people.

With Brazil’s entire political system now discredited by corruption allegations, the fad now is to avoid the word “party.” Among the list of party hopefuls are Equality, Popular Unity, Renovate, Popular Tribune, Real Parliamentary Democracy, Strength Brazil!, New Social Order, Common Citizen Movement and Roots.

Over the past three years, Brazil’s vast Car Wash corruption probe has implicated scores of top politicians, including President Michel Temer and former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Both have denied wrongdoing.

It isn’t always easy setting up a political party. Mr. Moreno was disavowed by the Corinthians soccer club, who dismissed him and his party as “opportunists.” Local press branded him a thug for hitting a military policeman—an incident Mr. Moreno says was self-defense. Corinthians fans are eager to sign up; supporters of other clubs are harder to convert, he says.

Mr. Moreno is still optimistic. “Politics is not just for boring men in suits; it’s for simple folk too,” he says. “We will make Brazilians proud to be Brazilian again!”

One of the Animals Party’s founders, Alexandre Gorga, is a bashful security guard at Brazil’s Supreme Court. His wife, an animal-rights activist, urged him to take action around the time she persuaded him to stop tormenting cows by giving up milk and cheese.

It was not long before the couple won the support of Nicole Puzzi and other vegans, a relatively isolated group in meat-loving Brazil. Like Ms. Puzzi though, the thought of actually running for office leaves him queasy. Mr. Gorga says: “I never wanted to get involved in politics.”