Group Blog # 5: Brazilian Electoral System (Phil, Divya & Ivan)

Curitiba Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 1 › view all entries

The country of Brazil first embraced democracy when it became a Republic in 1889, and with the various lapses since that time, it is a relatively young democratic nation.  Hence, Brazil is by no means politically perfect, and there exist certain problems that are quite evident in its system.  These imperfections currently hinder and prevent the political development of the nation, and without modifications, democracy in Brazil will continue to face numerous challenges.  Changes to, and perhaps even an overhaul of, the Brazilian electoral system are necessary to provide for Brazilians the political voice and representation they deserve.


Before proposing modifications to the current system, however, these issues must be addressed.  The following are the three detrimental problems regarding Brazilian democracy and the factors that cause them:


Lack of Political Ideology and Clientelism 


Many Brazilian political parties have indistinct, and some even non-apparent, political ideologies, stemming from, and further continuing, clientelism and patronage in Brazilian politics.  The lack of platforms and party philosophy require politicians and governing officials to be more personalized, and this breeds corruption since politicians will provide favors, mostly financial, to gain support from the general public or from specific groups.  Quite often, once these officials are in power, they will be extremely tempted to use the additional resources at their disposal to maintain their voter base, either for reelection or further political advancement.  This philosophy strays from democracy because the most wealthy and connected, the “bom de voto”, are elected to office instead of the most qualified individuals.  Not only does this factor tie the politician to the people, it is also what ties him/her to a political party.  Without regulations for party loyalty, removed in 1985, politicians will move between political parties whenever they are offered the best atmosphere to succeed.  Hence, parties will always look to recruit the most charismatic and promising candidates.  For instance, from 1987 to 1995, there were an estimated 459 cases of party defection.  Such instability only increases the lack of political ideology within each party (Brazilian Politics, Alfred P. Montero). 


Clientelism and lack of ideology can mostly likely be attributed to the military rule of Brazil from 1964 to 1985.  During this period, in an effort to re-establish democracy, the military government created two political parties: a party that supported the military government, the National Renovation Alliance (ARENA), and the loyal opposition, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB).  Thus, the lack of distinct political ideologies and true political platforms were started by the government, who forced the creation of parties based upon their attitude towards the government.  Hence, this move was destined to be a disaster since the public did not form these parties.  What would these parties stand for as soon as the military government lost power?  Inevitably, the strict military government became more and more unpopular, and eventually, power was finally restored to the people.  At this point, since many of the existing political parties were products of the military, they were distrusted and lacked majority support.  Resulting from this party distrust and lack of ideology, politicians began providing favors in exchange for votes.  Clientelism was necessary as votes could only be achieved through personal persuasion and favors and not through political affiliation or ideology (Brazilian Politics, Alfred P. Montero).


Political Fragmentation (Too Many Political Parties)


In the 2002 elections, 30 political parties participated in deputy and Senate elections.  This inordinate amount of political parties ties in with the clientelism and little political ideology and is comparable to a World Cup group of death, as there are no clear cut winners, and all of these parties fiercely compete against each other, distributing the votes, preventing a clear majority.  In the deputy/Senate elections of 2002, 17 parties received less than 1% of the vote, and the party with the majority, Lula’s Worker’s Party, only received 18.4% of the vote (“Elections in Brazil”,  Basically, by buying or persuading these voters, the groups prevent a true government of the people.  Instead, what results is a disjointed government of businessmen.  And the unnecessary 17 parties mentioned above simply serve to waste a the people’s votes; recognizing that they have little to no support, these politicians should pull out of the election instead of diluting it.  That the majority party cannot even secure a sizeable portion of the vote indicates that the resulting government is full of division, making conflict more likely.  If such fragmentation were to spread to the presidential election, which already had 6 candidates in 2002 (“Elections in Brazil”,, it would further create a non-representative government.  Like the Senate and deputies, the top two candidates would only get a fraction of the total votes in the first round, causing the second round of voting to leave voters with not much of a choice except to choose the lesser of two evils.  With only a few political parties, only a minority of citizens are obliged to recast a different vote, but with many parties only getting fractions of the vote, the majority of Brazilians would be pretty much forced to select a president (clientelism makes such a decision easier).  What the elections, the Senate/Deputies and possibly the presidency in the future, basically boil down to is which political groups basically have the most money or resources to gain support. 


Why the excess number of parties?  Once again, the military rule that ended in the 1980’s seems to be the culprit.  As stated before, the government created a pro and anti-government party, but as the military power became more and more unpopular, the antigovernment party was gaining too much support to the military’s liking.  In order to disorganize and split this opposition, the military government, in 1979, split the MDB into four parties, despite their close similarities in ideology (what little there was).  Thus, the government set the precedent for overcrowding elections with unnecessary parties, by which is meant parties that should have combined to work as a single group.  Furthermore, throughout most of the entire military regime, the military restricted the formation of political groups as well as controlled all existing parties.  Thus, when military rule came to an end, all existing political groups symbolized and were associated with the military, and were thus left with a difficult time in mustering support.  This, and the fact that people were given the freedom to create political parties as they chose, created an atmosphere that encouraged the additional creation of political groups, which the people carried out to an extreme (Brazilian Politics, Alfred P. Montero).




Under the concept of proportional representation, the greater population an area of the country has, the greater number of representatives that area should have.  In essence, every representative should represent the same amount of constituents.  Based on strictly proportion, the state of Sao Paulo should have 114 chamber of deputy representatives, while Roraima should only have one.  In actuality, however, Sao Paulo has 70 compared to Roraima’s 8.  There is an obvious misrepresentation here, as certain citizens and areas are being represented differently, which results in certain citizens having a greater political voice and say.  This benefits the smaller and less populated states as the citizens of these areas have greater political potential in congressional decisions.  And since the smaller, less populated states are underdeveloped and poorer when compared to the large, industrialized ones, this uneven representation results in legislation aimed to improve the small states, often times at the expense of the larger areas (


The cause of this problem is very simple and straightforward, as it is the result of a flaw in Brazil’s electoral system.  In the Brazilian constitution, when it comes to selecting representatives for the chamber of deputies, each state (based on proportional representation) can have no more than 70 deputies in the lower house, while each state must have at least 8.  The reasoning behind such a ceiling and floor on deputies is most likely that the drafters wanted to make sure that each state was at least adequately represented, and that a single large state could not hold the majority of the deputies.  However, these limitations have only served to swing representation unfairly in the favor of less populated areas, and thus, this is another issue that must be addressed (


In response to these problems, our group has a few particular modifications, and they are as follows:


Extension of the President and Vice-President’s terms from four to six years. 


In May 1994, Brazil revised its constitution to reduce the Presidential term from five to four years.  In our opinion, however, the first modification would be an extension of the Executive term from four to six years. Also, we suggest abolishing the provision for a consecutive reelection; however, we suggest reelection after at least one term.  Four years is too brief of a time for a single term, and it does not allow for effective policy-making and implementation.  Campaigns are lengthy and expensive processes, and thus, the party’s primary concern during the first four years is a reelection.  Hence, during the first term, the President’s policies tend to be designed to gain popular support for reelection than for effective decision-making.  If the President was given the Office for six years, he has ample time to consider and implement effective policies, and without the possibility of a consecutive term, he will not be focused on reelection.  Thus, he will spend more time representing and less time campaigning, and with the possibility of reelection after the following term, he has an incentive to leave a positive legacy of effective policies.  Also, with the powers of the President come incentives to accept bribes in the form of campaign assistance for specific policy implementation.  The elimination of consecutive terms would ensure that the Presidential candidates would not accept bribes to enact legislation.  Hence, the term increase and the elimination of consecutive terms would promote more efficient policy-making and decrease corruption within the election campaign.  However, with the possibility of future reelection, the President has the desire to maintain a positive legacy and attempt to become the people’s “Alegria do Povo”, or “the joy of the people”, which was the nickname for Brazil’s most beloved player, Garrincha.  Without spending too much time campaigning, there is less chance of bribery from elites within and outside of government (  


Limit party-switching and coalition formation.


Political parties play a central role in maintaining accountability in modern democracies.  Most citizens face severe information problems because, quite often, the masses do not monitor daily activities within the legislature.  Thus, political parties provide a link between citizens and representatives.  With well-defined, stable party labels that have a “garra interna”, a Uruguayan term for internal strength, citizens can bypass day-to-day activities in the legislature but still cast an accurate vote on Election Day.  Thus, parties should act as information providers by providing indicators for political directions, and party switching destroys party utility for voters because voters never know if a deputy will remain or switch to a new party. 


Party switching has long been popular in Brazil.  Party switching was curbed by the military during the authoritarian regimes from 1964 to 1985, but returned when these rules were eased in the early 1980s (Brazilian Politics, Alfred P. Montero) because of a disgruntled and nervous military (Jeff Kasen).  Since that time, party switching has regained popularity.  For example, between the October 2002 election and the swearing in of the elected officials in February 2003, 40 new deputies switched parties.  Often, legislatures change parties in search of pork, meaning that they switch into the winning parties that form governing coalitions (Brazilian Politics, Alfred P. Montero). 


Coalitions are very important for proportional representation elections in Brazil. In 1962 nearly 50 percent of federal deputies were elected through coalitions. With the surge of new parties created after 1985, coalitions again appeared in the 1986, 1990, and 1996 elections. These coalitions accounted for nearly 90 percent of those elected.  Thus, with Brazil’s free system of coalitions, many parties tend to lose their identities because legislators often switch parties immediately after each election. 


By mandating that coalitions must remain in place for at least three years after elections, party formation will be strengthened and the power of individual elites will be lessened.  By limiting party-switching and coalition formation to every three years, party delegations would have to remain together for a much longer period of time, and thus, they would be more stable and cohesive.  Party loyalty would be strengthened via this system because the legislators’ campaigns would be controlled by the party rather than by the individual to ensure that deputies follow through on their platforms.  Also, this mechanism allows for the formation of coalitions so that small parties still have a voice by engaging in coalition formation. 



Abolish the open-list system and enact closed-party list proportional representation.


While most nations employ a closed list mechanism, Brazil is one of the few nations that utilize an open list proportional representation system.  Brazilian voters may prefer their current system of an open list, D’Hondt proportional representation system because they have some influence on the order in which a party's candidates are elected rather than a closed list, which allows each party to determine the order of its candidates and gives the voter no influence at all within a party.  Also, with Brazil’s history of corruption, much of the public would believe that a closed-list promotes the Argentine concept of “gambeta”, or notion of “faking” or manipulating the public.  However, the implementation of a closed-list system will lessen the negative impact of party switching and clientelism among legislators in Brazil. 


With this type of system, voters can only vote for political parties as a whole and thus, they have no influence on the order in which the party candidates are elected.  In these systems, parties make lists of candidates to be elected, and seats get allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes the party receives. Voters vote directly for the party, and the order in which the party's candidates get elected are pre-determined by the party.  The party or coalition could informally host primaries to select their candidates and determine the rank order on the list. 


One of the main features of the system of open-list proportional representation for the Chamber of Deputies is that it induces extremely competitive elections.  For example, in 2002 a total of 4,901 candidates stood for the 513 seats in the Chamber. In only nine of the 27 districts were there fewer than 100 candidates; the lowest number was 66 for eight seats in Tocantins. There were 793 candidates for 70 seats from São Paulo, 602 for 46 seats from Rio, and 554 for 53 seats from Minas Gerais. Parties compete with each other and candidates, seeking to be elected for the seats which their parties gain, compete among themselves for the votes their parties obtain, and this leads to clientelism, which is considered to be at the root of the weakness of Brazil’s political parties.  Because of the clientelistic ties between voters and their representatives, the national legislature is primarily concerned with local rather than national issues.


As a result, with this system, parties would thus be strengthened and elections would take place among parties instead of individual candidates.  Thus, candidates with access to large sums of money and who are highly clientelistic would no longer be favored with the open list system (


To resolve the issue of malapportionment in Brazil, remove the maximum and minimum requirements for representation within the Chamber of Deputies.


The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members who represent 27 multi-member electoral districts. Their magnitude is determined by population, and no state can have fewer than eight or more than 70 representatives.


The rules for the Chamber of Deputies elections are controversial within the Brazilian electoral system. Mandating the minimum and maximum size of electoral districts means that representation in the Chamber is uneven between the states. Clearly, this violates the democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote’.  For example, the number of votes necessary to elect one representative in São Paulo, which has over 25 million voters and 70 seats, is ten times higher than it is in Amapá, which has about 290,000 voters and eight seats. Hence, this malapportionment benefits the less populous states, which tend to be poorer and more reliant on agriculture, and it is disadvantageous to the larger states, which are richer and more industrialized.


However, there are proponents of the present system.  The state of São Paulo is the only loser in the present system, where the number of representatives would increase by about 40 if the size of the electoral districts reflected population size. However, the present rules represent the concerns of the makers of the 1946 constitution, who wanted to prevent São Paulo from dominating the federation as they had done in previous history.  Also, malapportionment aids poor states by redistributing wealth in a highly unequal nation.


Thus, equally distributing members within the electoral districts will solve the problem of malapportionment within the Brazilian states (


Mandate that the Ministerio, the Cabinet of Brazil, be chosen by the President and approved by the Senate.


Currently, the President selects the Cabinet members of the Brazilian Ministry, and these selections do not need to be approved by the Senate.  However, in order to fully engage the public in the democratic process of the electoral system, we propose a change to this rule.  Because the President’s Cabinet holds powerful positions within government, we suggest that all Cabinet member positions require approval by the Senate. 


Overall, Brazil is currently suffering from major political problems, such as malapportionment, patronage, and fragmentation.  By establishing these proposed modifications to the electoral system, the troubles of the past and present will be alleviated, and the country can begin to look towards the future.  

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Sponsored Links
photo by: joesu