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Politics

brazil_flagPolitics of Brazil takes place in a framework of a federal presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Brazil is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system.

Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Congress. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Brazil is divided into 27 states, including the Federal District.

Executive branch

Main office holders name Party Since
President Luis Ignácio “Lula” da Silva Worker’s Party 1 January 2003
Vice-President José Alencar Gomes da Silva Elected by the Liberal Party, now in the Brazilian Republican Party 1 January 2003


The 1988 constitution grants broad powers to the federal government, made up of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president holds office for four years, with the right to re-election for an additional four-year term, and appoints his own cabinet.

Legislative branch

National Congress of Brazil

The bicameral National Congress or Congresso Nacional consists of

  1. The Federal Senate or Senado Federal, which has 81 seats-three members from each state or federal district elected according to the principle of majority to serve eight-year terms; one-third elected after a four year period, two-thirds elected after the next four-year period; and
  2. The Chamber of Deputies or Câmara dos Deputados, which has 513 seats; deputies are elected by proportional representation to serve four-year terms.

There are no limits on the number of terms one may serve for either chamber of the legislature.

The seats are allotted proportionally to each state’s population, but each state is eligible for a minimum of eight seats and a maximum of 70 seats. The result is a system weighted in favor of smaller states.

Fifteen political parties are represented in Congress. Since it is common for politicians to switch parties, the proportion of congressional seats held by particular parties changes regularly.

Political pressure groups and leaders

The left wing of the Catholic Church, the Landless Workers’ Movement, and labor unions pressure the government for more intense reforms on taxation and landed property, while the rightist DEM party is critical of the government’s social and economic policies.

Brazil is divided into two types of subnational units: states and municipalities.

States of Brazil

The 26 Brazilian states are semi-autonomous self-governing entities organized with complete administration branches, relative financial independence and their own set of symbols, similar to those owned by the country itself. Despite their relative autonomy they all have the same model of administration, as set by the Constitution.

States hold elections every four years and exercise a considerable amount of power. The 1988 constitution allows states to keep their own taxes, and mandates regular allocation of a share of the taxes collected locally by the federal government.

The Executive role is held by the Governador (Governor) and his appointed Secretários (Secretaries); the Legislative role is held by the Assembléia Legislativa (Legislative Assembly); and the Judiciary role, by the Tribunal de Justiça (Justice Tribunal). The governors and the members of the assemblies are elected, but the members of the Judiciary are appointed by the governor from a list provided by the current members of the State Law Court containing only judges (these are chosen by merit in exams open to anyone with a Law degree). The name chosen by the governor must be approved by the Assembly before inauguration. The 1988 Constitution has granted the states the greatest amount of autonomy since the Old Republic.

Each of the 26 state governors must achieve more than 50 per cent of the vote, including a second round run-off between the top two candidates if necessary. In contrast to the federal level, state legislatures are unicameral, although the deputies are elected through similar means, involving an open-list system in which the state serves as one constituency. State level elections occur at the same time as those for the presidency and Congress. In 2002, candidates from eight different parties won the gubernatorial contest while 28 parties are represented in the country’s state legislatures. The last set of elections took place in 2006.

The most important Brazilian states (in terms of population and economic power) are São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Bahia, Pernambuco and Santa Catarina.

Municipalities of Brazil

Brazil has no clear distinction between towns and cities (in effect, the Portuguese word cidade means both). The only possible difference is regarding the municipalities that have a court of first instance and those that do not. The former are called Sedes de Comarca (seats of a comarca, which is the territory under the rule of that court). Other than that, only size and importance differs one from another.

The municipality (município) is a territory comprising one urban area, the sede (seat), from which it takes the name, and several other minor urban or rural areas, the distritos (districts). The seat of a municipality must be the most populous urban area within it; when another urban area grows too much it usually splits from the original municipality to form another one.

A municipality is relatively autonomous: it enacts its own “constitution”, which is called organic law (Lei Orgânica), and it is allowed to collect taxes and fees, to maintain a municipal police force (albeit with very restricted powers), to pass laws on any matter that do not contradict either the state or the national constitutions, and to create symbols for itself (like a flag, an anthem and a coat-of-arms). However, not all municipalities exercise all of this autonomy. For instance, only a few municipalities keep local police forces, some of them do not collect some taxes (to attract investors or residents) and many of them do not have a flag (although they are all required to have a coat-of-arms).

Municipalities are governed by an elected prefeito (Mayor) and a unicameral Câmara de Vereadores (Councillors’ Chamber). In municipalities with more than 200,000 voters, the Mayor must be elected by more than 50% of the valid vote. The executive power is called Prefeitura.

Brazilian municipalities can vary widely in area and population. The municipality of Altamira, in the State of Pará, with 161,445.9 square kilometres of area, is larger than many countries in the world. Several Brazilian municipalities have over 1,000,000 inhabitants, with São Paulo, at more than 9,000,000, being the most populous.

Until 1974 Brazil had one state-level municipality, the State of Guanabara, now merged with the State of Rio de Janeiro, which comprised the city of Rio de Janeiro solely.

Brazilian Federal District

The Federal District is an anomalous unit of the federation, as it is not organized the same manner as a municipality, does not possess the same autonomy as a state (though usually ranked among them), and is closely related to the central power.

It is considered a single and indivisible entity, constituted by the seat (Brasilia) and some urban districts (the so-called satellite cities). Satellite cities are created (in law) and governed directly by the Governor of the Federal District, and possess no true identity.

History of Brazil (1964-1985)

In 1964 a military-led coup d’état deposed the democratically-elected president of Brazil, João Goulart. Between 1964 and 1985, Brazil was governed by the military, with a two-party system, with a pro-government National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) and an opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). Thousands of politicians (including former president Juscelino Kubitschek) had their political rights suspended, and military-sanctioned indirect elections were held for most elected positions until political liberalization during the government of João Figueiredo.

New Republic (1985-1990)

In 1985, the military were defeated in an election according to the scheme they had set up-as a consequence of the loss of political support among the elites. The opposition candidate, Tancredo Neves, was elected President, but did not take office before he died of natural causes. Fearing a political vacuum-that might stifle the democratic effort-Neves’ supporters urged vice-president, José Sarney to take the oath and govern the country. Tancredo Neves had said that his election and the demise of military régime would create a “New Republic” and Sarney’s term of government is often referred to by this name.

Sarney’s government was disastrous in almost every field. The ongoing economic recession and the soaring external debt drained the country’s assets while ravaging inflation (which later turned into hyperinflation) demonetized the currency and prevented any stability. In an attempt to revolutionize the economy and defeat inflation, Sarney carried on an ambitious “heterodox” economic plan (Cruzado) in 1986, which included price controls, default on the external debts and reduction of salaries. The plan seemed successful for some months, but it soon caused wholesale shortages of consumer goods (especially of easily exportable goods like meat, milk, automobiles, grains, sugar and alcohol) and the appearance of a black market in which such goods were sold for higher prices. Sarney used the popularity ensued by the apparent success of the plan to secure the hugest electoral win in Brazilian history: the party he had just joined, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), won 26 out of 27 states and more than 3,000 municipalities. Just after the elections, Sarney’s “corrections” to the economy failed to control inflation and the public perception that he had used an artificial control of inflation to win the elections proved to be his undoing: he never recovered his popularity and was plagued by strong criticism from most sectors of society until the end of his term. Despite popular rejection, Sarney managed to extend his term from four to five years and exerted pressure on the Constitutional Assembly that was drafting the new constitution to abort the adoption of Parliamentarism.



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