Brazilian Electoral System

Curitiba Travel Blog

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The words order and progress are embedded on the globe on the Brazilian flag. These words exemplify important thematic ideas of Brazilian politics and history. The country has undergone much turmoil and triumph in its governmental evolvement. Accordingly, there is room for more order and progress in the Brazilian electoral system. The current system consists of some impressive and dynamic components such as the electronic voting system and proportional Congressional representation. However, there are some aspects that should be amended such as the mandatory voting law as well as the malapportionment in Congress. These changes will improve the electoral system and facilitate Brazil in its continuous path of order and progress.


The Current Electoral System

The current Brazilian electoral system consists of many “kinks.” A central problem lies within the political party system. Experts have described it as “extreme multipartisan fragmentation.” In essence, Brazil’s party system has many effective parties but weak partisan identities. This is due to the numerous party switching as well as weak internal discipline and ineffective party leadership. In 1991, Brazil reached a record high of 21 separate parties with seats in Congress. However, none of these parties had a significant majority. In fact, no single party has held more than 21% of the Chamber of Deputy’s seats in any legislature. Nonetheless, most of these parties are very effective even if they are small. This is in part due to the dominance of clientalism and oligarchic tendencies of the party system. Consequently, coalitions and alliances are very rare and difficult.


Brazil’s open-list system adds to the weak party identity problem. Brazilian voters are able to write in their favored candidates instead of the party leaders determining the placement of the candidates in the electoral districts. This makes politicians less dependent on party backing. As a result, they depend more on their financial backers which goes back to the clientalistic nature of Brazilian politics. In this open-list system, campaigns are focused on the personal traits of the candidates. This often leads to candidates making themselves distinct from their party as well as the other members of their party. Politicians strive to appeal to their supporters which are usually elite monetary followers. The fiscal backing allows the politicians to form personal followings in the population.


The current Brazilian Congress consists of 513 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 81 seats in the Senate. The seats in the Senate are fixed. The 26 states each receive the same number of seats. However, the seats in the Chamber of Deputies consists of proportional representation. Therefore, the bigger the population in a state, the greater the number of seats in the House. However, there are limits to this representation. The minimum number of seats is 8 and the maximum number is 70. Consequently, this law favors the smaller states. Although they might not have the population to have 8 seats, they are still guaranteed this amount. On the opposite end, large states such as São Paulo can only have 70 seats, even though the population allows for more than the maximum amount. This results in the reduction of the influence of urban voters. Although the urban populations have a large representation, many Brazilians feel that the representation should be bigger and more superior. The cap on the maximum number of seats cultivates a rivalry with middle sized states with the more dominant and larger states as well.


One of our main concerns with the current electoral system stems from the Brazilian voting policies. Brazilian citizens who are 18 years or older are required to vote in elections.  Also between the ages of 16 and 18 teenagers have the right to vote but are not required. In Brazil, voting is considered both a right and a duty among citizens. And although demanding that voting must be mandatory can sometimes be productive in elections, in the case of the Brazilian national election, it is in no way beneficial. Voting should remain a right of each citizen, but it should not however be one of the duties of the citizens. 


Within the system of government in Brazil everyone from the president to senate members need to be held more accountable.  Often times political figures will not declare there candidacy acceptance until a few weeks before the election. This causes problems for the voters. The voters are left in the dark and as well as not knowing who will be running, they also are left uninformed about which party the candidates will be running under. In Brazil candidates are also notorious for party switching which leads to confusion and frustration among voters.  This does not promote a legitimate government and in general the citizens feel misguided by their politicians and therefore by their government.  Overall, citizens need to feel like they can rely on their politicians to make the most out of their active participation.


The Cho-Painter Recommended Revisions to the Electoral System

            Brazil is a dynamic country of many different backgrounds. Brazilian citizens are farmers, urban workers, artisans, business managers, teachers, religions leaders, etc. The population also consists of Japanese, Polish, Native American, Italian, African, and other various ethnic descendents. Consequently, the multiparty system allows for various interests and sects to be represented. There is a definite presence of diversity in politics. However it should not be to the extent that no party can reach a majority. Presently, to form a new political party 500,000 signatures spread over nine states are required. These signatures are kept in the permanent registry of parties in the electoral courts. This is clearly not an easy task yet new parties are still being formed. In 2003, the PESD, the Party of the Socialist and Democratic Left was formed. Therefore, these requirements need to be changed. There need to be rules that force similar ideological parties to form coalitions. Possible changes include that new parties can only be formed if they can show a significant amount, perhaps a certain number of differences on set issues, of ideological differences between the proposed party and current acting political parties. A electoral council can be formed that could rule on the various proposals. This council would decide if the proposed party has the right number of differences as well as the caliber of the significance of a deviation from the other acting parties.


            There needs to be an increase made to the maximum number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. There also needs to be an increase in the number of seats a state can hold. There still needs to be a minimum number of seats a state can hold in the House. This allows for minorities to be represented in an adequate manner. The huge urban populations of states such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul play a huge role in past and current Brazilian policies and world positions. Many of the constant and continual issues stem from these states. In addition, these regions have to deal with many more issues than many of the other smaller states. The larger states also are more affected by governmental changes and decisions because of the amount of people that reside in these regions. The cap allows them to have 70 seats which puts them in competition with some of the middle sized states. Consequently, the cap needs to be raised in order for these larger states to have more of a significant presence as well as a larger majority.


Cho-Painter Alternative


As stated earlier, Brazil’s requirement of mandatory voting is one our main points of contention with the electoral process.  Mandatory voting does little to help the legitimacy of the government.  If the entire adult population is forced to vote, then you will have a multitude of people that are completely indifferent voting for the future government of the country. Voting is a right and a privilege, and a right should not be transformed into a duty.  The constitution claims that voting is in fact a right, so if voting is a right, shouldn’t it be exercised only if the person holding it wishes to do so?


Therefore voting should no longer be required among adult Brazilian citizens.  It is believed that following the switch from mandatory to voluntary voting, the new non-compulsory system will only help the validity of the candidates. People now vote because they are subject to penalties if they do not, but if they are no longer obligated, they will vote because they truly have a desire to be an active participant in their government.  A voluntary voting system will only make the president and other elected officials in a sense more legitimate and more credible.


The central difficulty for Brazil is based on the problems within the party system, therefore our main focus will be on correcting this problem. Hopefully, after we have found a way to curtail the problems that occur from this issue, the results will lead to correcting a few of the other basic problems found within the Brazilian electoral system.  One of the major detrimental aspects of the Brazilian party system is that there is currently no party identity.  In the last election the workers party won with only 18 percent of the vote, while in the same election there were seventeen parties that received less than 1 percent of the vote.  Somehow these parties need to be forced to form more coalitions among themselves.


A lack of party identity stems directly from one of the other major problems concerning parties and candidates, and that is referred to as party switching. Often times during the electoral process, candidates will switch parties a number of different times.  We believe that it is essential to enforce a new lay that restricts candidates from switching parties less than one year before the election.


Very similar to this law, is another law that would dramatically help the citizens of the country to be better educated and prepared when they are ready to vote. The current president of Brasil Lula da Silva, is refusing to announce his candidacy for president.  He is planning to wait into the election is closer. Therefore the public remains uninformed about the basic questions regarding their nation. Thus, it is essential that nominees announce their candidacy one year in advance.


Although there are some fundamental changes that need to be made within the Brazilian electoral system, there are also a few areas that are strong enough to maintain. For instance, the multiparty system should be sustained because of the numerous ethnicities that are found in the country of Brazil. And although there is a strong tie of nationalism in Brazil, there are still many different regions of the country that all have a variety of interests.  And all sects should be accountable and spoken for. They need to have outlet and a proper way in which to be represented within the government.


Another element of the Brazilian government that is currently being utilized is run-off majority elections.  A run-off election is required if no one receives a majority in the first round. A majority is recognized as 50 percent plus at least one vote.   Run-off elections are essential to continue because it helps facilitate the sentiment among voters that it was they, the people, who elected the officials. With a runoff election the president receives a majority of the votes. This process keeps voters content and instills in them the sentiment that it was they, the people, who truly directly elected their nations leaders.


One of the most significant progressions in the Brazilian electoral process is their new electronic voting system.  The Brazilian government really scored a goal with the electronic voting system that they now employ.  Brazil is in fact one of the world leaders in electronic elections. Brazil’s new voting system has proved to be quite efficient. Countries around the globe should look to Brazil as a model for electronic voting.


There are several fundamental changes that need to be made in order to allow Brazilians with an efficient and productive electoral system. There have been many yellow cards a long the way, for instance politicians most definitely stepped out of bonds with their party switching practices.  But the Brazilian electoral process has received its first and final red card and will now have to be transformed and renovated.  But it is hoped that the newly proposed alternative electoral process will bring a more legitimate and efficient government that operates with the smoothness and swiftness of the legendary Pelé signature move.


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photo by: joesu