brazilian electoral system

Sao Paulo Travel Blog

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There are many positive aspects to the Brazilian electoral system and governmental structure, that working around the base is easier than revamping an entire system. One of the most beneficial characteristics in Brazil and is much needed in the United State’s electoral system is mandatory voting. Used in many countries, the mandatory voting is necessary for democratic countries that wish to include all aspects of the population in elections. Although Brazil has gone through military coups in the past, its pattern has been more democratic than some Latin American countries. By having a mandatory voting system, parts of the population less inclined to participate in politics are forced to choose representation. Although the people participate in politics by mandatory voting, the representation they receive as a result is less optimal. Party fragmentation has become an increasing problem within Brazilian politics. Candidates are continually weakening their ties with the political parties they affiliate themselves with in part due to the set up of the current electoral system. Brazil is one of only a handful of countries in the world to use an open-list proportional system for its lower house. A party list system is an electoral system in which the political parties create a list of candidates, which are then allocated seats in order based on the proportion of votes that party receives. An open list system is designed to allow the voters the influence to determine the order of the candidates on the list or ballot and thus who from each party will win the seats. This type of proportional representation encourages favoritism of the individual rather than a strong alliance with a political party. This system of personalism leads to an increase in clientelism between the voter and the politician causing an unbalanced concern for local issues over national problems. The results of an open list system increase the proportion of voters who vote based on candidate preferences rather than by party, thus if candidate preference is the higher priority voters would tend to follow their candidate even if they change parties. Candidates are aware of this preferential system, but also take advantage of party swapping to garnish a few extra votes in order to meet the necessary quota to obtain a seat. In the article “In Brazil, the party line is often blurry,” a Brazilian congressman, Carlos Williams, is followed through his five party switches in just three and a half years. Deputy Williams doesn’t even place his current party affiliation on his business cards, because it changes so frequently. Mr. Williams admitted that he “entered those parties because (he) did the math and it was the best way for (him) to win elections” ( Party switching has been a major cause of the further weakening of political parties, which has spawned serious problems such as legislative stagnation and corruption. Almost “40% of the 523 members” of the current congress have changed their party affiliation since “taking office in 2003, many of them more than once” ( In Brazil, there are currently fifteen parties represented in congress all with either low levels of party discipline or high levels of corruption. In order to strengthen member accountability and affiliation and consolidate and decrease the amount of parties, a complete readjustment to the current electoral system is needed. The electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies should remain a proportional representative system but should be changed from an open-list system to a closed-list system. In a closed-list system, the order of the candidates is predetermined by the political leaders of each party, which eliminates the individualistic influence of the voter. The voter no longer votes according to a candidate preferential system, but votes instead for a party. The proportion of seats each party obtains is based on the proportion of votes they receive, and the seats are allocated according to the order of the candidates on the list. Politicians are more inclined to strengthen their affiliation and loyalty to a political party in order to ensure a desirable position on the party’s list. Therefore, in order for a candidate to identify strongly with a party the party must first clearly define themselves. By forcing parties to redefine or more clearly define themselves, parties will find common ground with several other parties, more often the smaller ones, and begin to consolidate or form coalitions in order to gain a larger proportion of the votes. A closed-list system will decrease the large number of undefined political parties and create a system in which both the voter and the politician begin to strongly associate themselves with one party. Another major problem with the current electoral system is the negative impact of a malapportioned Chamber of Deputies. The elections for the Chamber of Deputies are divided into 27 multi-member electoral districts, representing the 26 states and Brasilia. The heart of the problem is not necessarily the size of the districts, but rather the district magnitude of each of these areas. The magnitude of the districts is determined by population with a lower and upper limit, in which no district can have less than 8 seats in the Chamber or greater than 70 seats. The restrictions were created to protect the less inhabited agricultural districts from being underrepresented and overpowered by the more populous industrial districts. In order to address the issue of malapportionment, the district design and system must be changed. Brazil suffers from high levels of inequality most notably between the northern and coastal regions. The division between rural and urban areas is further separated by the lack of geographic representation for smaller areas within each district. The current size of the electoral districts limits the ability for the system to equally and attentively address issues on a smaller more specific level. We are proposing that this should be changed to a mixed-member system. A mixed-member system is unique because it gives the voters two votes: one for the party and one for a candidate. In a mixed-member proportional system (MMP), the seats for each state are divided with half of the seats slotted for the winners of the closed-party list system and half of the seats going to the winners of the first-past-the-post system. Each state is divided into smaller districts based on population. The number of districts coincides with the number of seats allocated to the plurality system. However, if a candidate wins a constituency seat but is also on the party list they are crossed of the list and the next candidate down receives the seat. Mixed-member systems enjoy large success, especially in countries with high levels of geographic divisions in inequality. Germany is a great example of a country in which a MMP has decreased the level of inequality in representation. Although both countries are passionate for soccer, Germany is like Brazil in a lot of other ways. Germany upon reuniting was separated economically and culturally between the East and the West; similarly Brazil is separated between the North and the South regions. It is important for Brazil to form a political arena including strong national parties and less undefined smaller parties. A MMP is more likely than other electoral systems to generate a two party system without reducing minor parties to insignificance. Furthermore, a MMP will generate local accountability and a nationally oriented party system. In order to fully solve the problems of a malapportioned lower house, the restrictions on the district magnitudes must be modified. Brazil is a large country with a high degree of population distribution disparity and thus it is important for the lower limit of eight representatives per district to remain even though this allows overrepresentation in those regions. The regions taking advantage of the restrictions are important not just on matters of economic and international policy, but it is important for these areas to have sufficient representation in order to ensure environmental problems are addressed. The upper limit of 70 seats should be completely abolished, because those regions with the majority of the population should not go underrepresented just because the smaller less populous states are afraid of losing power to the cities. The government should be represented by the people and if the majority of the people live in one state than that state should have sufficient seats to represent accurately it’s constituents. Brazil’s political system needs a complete restructuring if it is to become a stable accountable system void of corruption and weak party definitions. It is important in any political system to have parties that adhere to it’s policies and for voters to affiliate themselves with political ideals and not an individual. A mixed-member system coupled with a closed-list will decrease the number of small undefined parties and create a system of strong parties, affiliations, loyalties, coalitions and ideals that are necessary to provide a more democratic electoral system. Any changes made to the electoral system will be eased into society by placing it in a context that is familiar and approachable to the public. Since all of society is expected to vote, and not just certain classes, there has to be a generic formula that can cover all mindsets. The tie that binds in Brazil is one thing: soccer. The people of Brazil realize that their national team is on of the top five global soccer powerhouses. This is reflected in the number of supporters of the Brazilian national team. One would be hard pressed to find someone in Brazil who doesn’t watch every World Cup game that Brazil plays in. This is what brings them together. Though the country struggles with racial and social discrimination and inequality, the soccer field is immune to these problems. Soccer is the common bond between black and white, rich and poor. In order to convince the Brazilian people that the reforms we are proposing here are in their best interests, we will use the one thing every Brazilian knows and understands, their life blood: the beautiful game. Team loyalty is something easy to come by in Brazil, partly because they have such an outstanding national team year after year. It would be quite a challenge to find a Brazilian that wasn’t a hardcore fan of the national Brazilian team. If we can persuade the Brazilian people to see the connection we are presenting between soccer and politics, this loyalty may carry over to political parties. As mentioned earlier, there is little to no party loyalty in Brazil. Voters are very more supportive of individual candidates and politicians than of the parties they are supposed to represent. If this phenomenon were to occur in soccer, it would be as if each fan supported only one player. No one would care what team their player played for, whom the team played or even what the record of the team was. If soccer team loyalty was similar to Brazilian politics, the only thing that would matter to each fan is whether or not their one player did well. Imagine a stadium filled with these kinds of fans. Instead of two sets of fans, there’d be more than twenty-five! There would be none of the chants or fireworks or mass celebrations that characterize Brazilian soccer. This in turn would affect the players and even the game itself and turn it into a show-off spectacle. Players would strive only to please their fans by scoring or blocking a goal or by displaying their individual talents. It wouldn’t even be a game at all. This is the situation that the political party system is facing in Brazil today. By comparing political parties to soccer teams and individual politicians to players on those teams, we hope to allow the Brazilian public to see the advantages to a strong political party system. Soccer teams and athletic clubs have elected officials, exactly like a board of directors that is elected in a business. Instead of the board being elected by stockholders, they are elected by the members of the club. Then those directors are given the responsibility of choosing the team managers and head coach. Then the coach has the job of deciding the roster of players. One of the reforms we are proposing is the closed-list balloting system where the heads of a political party would decide which order to put the candidates running for the House of Deputies in, and voters would simply vote for a party. The benefits we hope to gain from this are a reduced number of political parties, more party discipline and structure, and increased party loyalty. Again, in order to speak to the masses of Brazil, we would compare political party leaders to coaches and mangers. Like coaches who know what’s best for the team, party heads usually know the best order for their candidates. Granted a closed list ballot system opens a channel for corruption of the party leaders. However, these leaders could be kept in check the same way that coaches and the directors of clubs are. If a coach produces a bad team roster, he’ll have a losing season. If he has a number of losing seasons and the directors don’t fix something, the members of the club have the power to elect a new board of directors. Though this may sound complicated, Brazilians understand this. We simply need to help them make the connection between what they know and this new political system. Though all Brazilians are fans of their national team, most also have their favorites when it comes to local teams. There are more than 400 different athletic club teams registered in the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF)'s official register in the country of Brazil (, and these teams are as unique as the people of Brazil. There’s Paranaense that markets itself to upper and middle class families, to the talent incubation chamber for export of International, to the totally obscure that no one outside of Brazil has ever heard of like Icasa from the state of Ceará. All of these teams play compete for the state championship title in their respective states. The winner of the state championship is qualified to play in the Copa do Brasil that is played the following year. One of the changes we want to implement in the Brazilian electoral system is the switch to smaller, electoral districts divided by population. Currently, each state is considered a district so there are only 27 districts (26 plus the Distrito Federal) in a country of 185 million. Breaking each state up into smaller districts by population should give a much more accurate representation of popular opinion. We believe the best way to sell this part of the projected reforms to the public is to compare these new, smaller districts to local club teams. As of now, there are only state districts or “teams” and no local “teams” (districts). Imagine if a huge, populous state like Sao Paulo only had one soccer team! Just like the small size of local club teams makes it easier for the clubs to cater to individual fans and members, smaller of districts would have the same effect with voters. A larger number of smaller precincts would increase the reliability of the final vote count for national elections and would increase the probability that the actual winner of an election would take office, much like the state championships held the year before the Copa do Brasil ensures that the actual best team in the state goes on to play in the tournament. The state precinct in place now is like simply choosing the team in the state with the best record to send to the Copa do Brasil. Brazilians, of all people, know that a team’s record is not an accurate prediction of its future performances. Our suggestions are not much of a stretch from what Brazil’s electoral system looks like currently. Any changes are merely adjustments to improve the system and not totally alter it. These modifications should easily become acclimated within Brazilian society. The concepts are not foreign and easy to understand through the analogies to futebol. They are small changes, but vital in representing the public evenly. The mandatory voting allows for the voice of the Brazilian people to be heard, while this new system will allow for more effective representation.
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Sao Paulo
photo by: Eric