Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Electoral Systems of the World-Brazil

Brazil is a large country on the continent of South America. It is the most populated country in South America, and the wealthiest. It is also the fifth largest country by population. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, as it was colonised by Portugal.

The political system of Brazil is fairly complicated, and the nation has a long and bloody record of coups and revolutions. The nation gained independence from Portugal in 1825 after a war. Following the removal of the Portuguese government, Brazil became an empire, led by Emperor Pedro the First, the former King of Portugal. The early government of Brazil had trouble dealing with slavery, secessionism, and racial tensions. The monarchy of Brazil was complimented by a Parliament, but it was far from democratic.

The Empire of Brazil was not especially successful at meeting these challenges, and in 1889 the monarchy was overthrown, and Brazil became a republic. A presidential election was held by Congress, and Deodoro da Fonseca was elected President. His administration was short-lived, and Fonseca resigned. The first direct elections were held in 1894, and were won by the right-wing liberal Republican Party of Sao Paulo. This party dominated government for the next decade, but in 1906, the Mineiro Republican Party won the presidency.

Over the next few years, a confusing mix of republican parties held the presidency, and elections were fairly uncompetitive. There was nothing unusual about this in South and Central America at the time; this was the era of 'banana republics', when large fruit companies controlled the elections and politics of Latin American countries in order to ensure a monopoly over fruit production. However, in Brazil it was more a case of ruling governments using their positions in order to entrench their party's dominance.

In the 1930s, Brazilian politics was unstable, which caused serious social and economic problems. Defeated Vice Presidential candidate Getulio Vargas led a military coup to take power, and became President. Vargas led Brazil for 15 years, and introduced significant economic changes; he created state-owned monopolies for many industries. This economic policy remained significant in Brazil for many years.

Following World War 2, Brazil moved towards democratisation. A new, relatively liberal, constitution was introduced that was heavily based of the Constitution of the United States. Presidents were elected by the single-member plurality system, and vice-presidents were elected seperately from presidents; a design choice which led to instability, as presidents were frequently elected with less than a majority, and vice-presidents could be elected from different parties as the president. A party-list proportional representation system with open lists was introduced for the Chamber of Deputies, while the Senate was elected using the limited vote using state boundaries.

Brazil's president was fairly powerful. He appointed ministers, was able to veto or approve bills passed by Parliament unless the bill recieved two-thirds of the vote from both houses, and was supreme commander of the military.

The Congress played a purely legislative role. It approved bills, which the President could veto, and voted on the budget.

A new president, Eurico Dutra, was elected as the candidate of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, which also won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Dutra was a heavily pro-United States candidate, but was fairly unpopular.

In the 1950 Presidential election, he was defeated by Vargas, who ran as the candidate of the left-wing Brazilian Labour Party. However, the Labour Party did not have a majority in Congress, and Vargas's presidency was fairly ineffective. In 1954, Vargas committed suicide, and was replaced with Vice President Cafe Filho.

Filho did not run for re-election in 1955, and in a three-way presidential election, conservative National Democrat candidate Janio Quadros was elected. However, Quadros had little support in Congress, and resigned at the end of 1961. He was replaced by left-wing Vice President Joao Goulart. However, Goulart's power was reduced by a constitutional amendment creating the office of Prime Minister.

During his term, Goulart came into conflict with the right-wing establishment, thus earning the enmity of the military. In 1964, these tensions came to a head. The military overthrew Goulart, and replaced him with high ranking officer Castelo Branco.

It is worth taking a further look at this period of Brazilian history. One of the big problems with the Brazilian government during this period was that it was rare for one party to control both the Presidency and the parliament, which made governments unstable and ineffective.

In nations with a powerful military, this sort of ineffectiveness can turn military officers against governments. Of course, this is a relatively minor factor; the main force for the coup came from the elevation of the leftist Goulart to the presidency.

Elections under military government

The military government abolished all of Brazil's political parties, and introduced repressive new electoral laws that only allowed two parties: the right-wing anti-communist National Renewal Alliance (ARENA) and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). Vaguely democratic elections were held for Congress, but they were tightly controlled to ensure that the MDB did not get anywhere near power, and it was made clear by the coup leaders that if the MDB won, they would not win any power.

Presidential elections under the military government were held indirectly; presidents were elected through an electoral college. The makeup of this college was such that a victory for the military's preferred candidate was ensured. Nonetheless, the MDB did run candidates, but only to attract attention to the regime's human rights abuses.

During the late 70s, international pressure grew on Brazil to return to democracy. Eventually, the military leaders agreed to move towards democracy, but slowly, in order to ensure an 'ordered' transfer. Over the next few years, gradual improvements were made, including the introduction of a multi-party system. More controversially, an Amnesty Law was passed, making officials in the military government immune from prosecution for any crimes committed under the military government.

In 1985, the first (sort of) democratic  presidential election took place. The Electoral College was still used, but electors were free of the sort of coercion that took place under military rule. Tancrado Neves, the candidate of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (the renamed MDB, abbreviated as PMDB) defeated Paulo Maluf, the candidate of the Democratic Social Party (the renamed ARENA). Tancrado died before he was sworn in, but was replaced by his vice-president, Jose Sarney.

It is debatable whether this transition to democracy is the most desirable way. There are two distinct sorts of transitions: ones where the non-democratic government collapses (i.e. Soviet Union), and ones where the non-democratic government transitions to democracy of their own accord (i.e. Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan).

Ones where the non-democratic government collapses usually provide the quickest transition, and give less time for non-democratic leaders to put in place self-serving legislation. They can, however, lead to a chaotic development of democracy, which can lead to the rise of anti-democratic strongmen promoting 'law and order', such as in Russia and Hungary.

When non-democratic governments wind themselves up, the transition to democracy can be slow, and dictators have plenty of time to create golden parachutes for themselves. Despite this, this method has a number of advantages. It means that state institutions remain consistent during the changeover, and creates a more inclusive environment for constitution building.

For obvious reasons, this is not something that can necessarily be chosen. It is worth noting that most of the countries that have had the non-democratic governments transition to democracy have been 'soft' dictatorships, where voters had some opportunity to vote for opposition parties.

The new constitution

Following Sarney's victory in the 1985 elections, a Constitutional Assembly was elected. In this election, the PMDB won a majority, the new centre-right Liberal Front came second, the Democratic Social Party came third (with only 8% of the vote, down from 43% in 1982), and the left-wing Workers' Party (PT) came fourth.

This assembly took three years to write a new constitution, which was approved by the assembly. The constitution established a presidential system of government, with an elected bicameral legislature.

The President and Vice-President were to be elected simultaneously on the same ticket for four-year terms, using the two-round system. Presidents, among other things, are able to appoint Ministers, command the military, and submit budgets. They can veto legislation, but that veto can be removed by a majority vote of both houses of Parliament

The parliament remained bicameral, with the Senate being elected through the limited vote based on equal representation of provinces. The Chamber of Deputies was elected through the open list system, based on provincial boundaries. However, there is a maximum number of seats that a province can have, which means that very large provinces can be under-represented.

The effects of the new constitution

The first election under the new constitution took place in 1989, for the Presidency. A large number of candidates contested the election. Governor of the small northeastern state of Alagoas Fernando Collor de Mello ran as the candidate of the centre-right National Reconstruction Party came first in the first round with 36% of the vote, while Luiz Inaco Lula de Silva of the left-wing Workers Party came second, with 16.7%. In third place came Leonel Brizola, of the left-wing Democratic Labour Party, with 16%, and Mario Covas of the Social Democrats came fourth with 11%.

In the second round, between de Mello and de Silva, de Mello came first, with 53%, an improvement of 17%. de Silva won 47%, a gain of 30%. de Silva's more significant gain was due to more fragmented smaller left-wing parties uniting to support him in the second round.

The first legislative election under the new system took place in 1990. Data is not consistent regarding this election, but it seems to have produced a heavily fragmented parliament, which was not helpful for de Mello, a president already facing a serious economic crisis.

In 1992, Parliament introduced impeachment charges against de Mellor, who was accused of offering influence in government affairs for money. A report showed that the President was likely guilty, and the Chamber of Deputies allowed the trial to proceed to the Senate.

Before he could be tried, however, de Collor resigned, and was replaced by Vice President Itamar Franco, a member of the PMDB. Despite his resignation, the trial of de Collor in the Senate went on, and he was found guilty almost unanimously. He obviously could not be removed from office, but he was banned from running for any election for eight years.

During Itamar's term, a referendum was held on a change in the political system. This was part of a deal in the Constitutional Assembly, where a number of members who supported the previous military regime were willing to back a new constitution if voters had the opportunity to choose between a monarchy and a republic, and a parliamentary and presidential system.

In this referendum, the status quo won easily. In the monarchy vs. republic contest, republic won with 86%, while in the presidentialism vs. parliamentarism contest, presidentialism won with 69%. The monarchy contest was relatively unsurprising, given that Brazilians were used to presidentialism and were uncertain about monarchy, but the defeat of parliamentarism was probably due to a connection between the system and the coup.

Itamar was fairly popular, but chose not to run for election in 1994. The 1994 Presidential election was comfortably won by centrist Social Democrat (PSDB) candidate Fernando Cardoso, with 54% in the first round, compared to just 27% for the nearest candidate, Luiz da Silva of the Workers' Party. No other candidate managed 10%, but PMDB candidate Orestes Quercia won 4.4%

Despite this landslide for the presidency, the Social Democrats did not do especially well in the Chamber of Deputies. The PMDB came first, with 20% and 107 out of 513 seats. The PSDB came second, with 14% and 62 seats, a relatively weak position for a presidential party. Despite winning only 13%, the Liberal Front won 89 seats. The Workers' Party won 12.8%, and 49 seats. No other party won more than 10%.

The effect of the PMDB, a vague, catch-all party with little support when they stick to one candidate (in Presidential elections), but with more significant support in elections where there are multiple candidates (Chamber of Deputies elections) is rather interesting. One could perhaps consider the PMDB a 'party of independents', given that the party is not ideological and rather factional.

The general weakness of the major parties in the legislature makes the PMDB's support essential, and this is where the party's lack of ideology becomes useful. The party is able to deal with whoever is in power, thus allowing presidents to pass bills through the legislature. Often, this comes from pork-barrelling for PMDB members from the president; given that the President of Brazil has decree powers, he is able to build projects in PMDB-voting areas.

This may have something to do with the legislature's electoral system. Open list systems tend to allow parties with many factions to do well, as voters do not have to vote for a pre-determined list, the writing of which can lead to political conflicts. Rather, voters can vote for the candidate which most aligns with their factional affiliation. This has happened in Italy, where an open list system created heavily factional parties with politicians needing to pander to their local interest groups.

In 1998, Cardoso was easily re-elected again, with 53% to 31% for de Silva, and 11% for centre-left Socialist People's Party candidate Ciro Gomes. In the Chamber of Deputies, the Social Democrats came first, in terms of votes, with 17.5%. However, they came second to the Liberal Front in terms of seats; the Social Democrats won 99 seats (out of 513), the Liberal Front 105. The PMDB lost ground, winning 15% and 83 seats, and the Workers' Party won 13% and 58 seats.

During Cardoso's second term, the Asian economic crisis took place. As a result, cuts to public services were made, and unemployment increased. As a result, the Social Democrats lost support, and three-time Workers' Party Presidential candidate Lula de Silva won the presidency in 2002, with 46% in the first round (to 23% for Jose Serra of the Social Democrats, 17% for Anthony Garotinho of the Socialist Party, and 12% for Gomes of the Socialist People's Party). In the second round, Serra was hammered 61-39, with the leftist de Silva winning the presidency.

The Chamber of Deputies results were, again, relatively disconnected to the presidential contest. The Workers' Party did come first, but only with 18.4% and 91 seats, while the Social Democrats came second, with 14.3% and 71 seats. Not far behind was the Liberal Front, which, once again, won fewer votes than another party (13.4%), but won more seats (84). The PMDB continued their slide, winning 74 seats, and 13.4%.

de Silva was re-elected in 2006, but the election was much less fragmented. In the first round, de Silva won 49% to 42% for Social Democrat Geraldo Alckmin. However, most of the other candidates in the first round were leftists, and de Silva was easily re-elected 60-40.

The Chamber of Deputies results were more interesting. The Workers' Party lost ground, a change due to leftists moving to more radical left-wing parties as a consequence of de Silva's centrist shift, and a number of scandals under the government. The Workers' Party fell to 15%, and won 83 seats. For the first time since 1994, the PMDB came first in terms of seats, winning 14.6% and 89 seats. They had endorsed de Silva in the presidential race, however, thus making it likely that he would get their support. In the same election, the Social Democrats won 13.6% and 65 seats, drawing even with the Democrats, who won 10.9% and the same number of seats.

The 2010 election was rather interesting. It was the first presidential election under the new constitution in which Lula was not a candidate, and as a result was the first in which the Workers' Party didn't have an easy candidate. Former Minister for Energy and incumbent Presidential Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff was chosen, and ran against Social Democrat Sao Paulo governor Jose Serra.

In the first round, Rousseff won 47% to 32% for Serra and a surprising 19% for Green candidate Marina Silva. Silva's support went relatively equally to the two candidates, and Rousseff won in the second round 56-44.

The legislative elections were comfortably won by Rousseff's coalition, which comprised the Workers' Party (which regained the status of largest party, winning 17% and 88 seats), the PMDB (which won 13% and 79 seats), and, rather oddly, the right-wing Republic Party, which won 7.6% and 41 seats. Most of the other parties were small leftist groups. The inclusion of the Republic Party does show how broad Brazilian coalitions can be, and how ideology can be bent in order to make political deals.

The opposition Social Democrats came third, with only 12% and 53 seats, while the Democrats won 7.6%. Unlike the government coalition, the opposition was relatively ideologically coherent, but was weak, only winning 26.5% of the total seats. The Greens did not repeat their impressive performance from the presidential elections, winning only 4% and 15 seats.

The 2015 elections were the closest ever. Rousseff ran for re-election against Aecio Neves, a governor of Minas Gerais and a Social Democrat. Marina Silva made another crack at the office, but this time as a candidate of the centre-left Socialist Party, originally for the Vice Presidency. However, the Socialist presidential candidate Eduardo Campos died in a plane crash during the campaign, and Silva was chosen to replace him.

In the first round, Rousseff won 42%, Neves won 34%, and Silva won 21%. Silva, rather oddly, endorsed the centre-right Neves for the second round. This made the second round extremely competitive, but in the end, Rousseff won 52-48%.

The legislative elections resulted in a majority (59% of seats) for the pro-Rousseff coalition, with losses from the Workers' Party and PMDB being cancelled out by the addition of a new party, the Social Democrats (but different Social Democrats from the old ones). The opposition coalition didn't change much, winning 25% of seats while Silva's coalition won 10% of seats, making them a significant presence in the parliament.

What impact does the electoral system have on Brazilian politics?

You would be forgiven for thinking Brazilian legislative and presidential elections were from different countries. The extreme fragmentation in the legislative elections is an interesting contrast to the relatively closed competition in the presidential elections. This is probably due to the formation of coalitions around certain candidates for the presidential election for parties that are unable to endorse a candidate with strong support.

The open list system is most interesting. At the moment, Brazilians vote electronically, by putting in a number for a candidate. As noted before, this can be a useful feature for parties with relatively broad ideologies, like the PMDB. They do not need to draw up lists, which can be polarising.

Also as discussed before, the open list system usually leads to fairly candidate-based politics, rather than party-based politics. The relatively high proportionality of this system means that many parties can enter parliament, making it relatively easy for new entrants to enter the lower house.

It would be interesting to see how Brazil would work with a parliamentary system. The incentives for voting would obviously be different, and it is plausible that there would be a change to a more majoritarian system. If governments were dependent on current parliaments, Brazil would be far more unstable. It seems likely that some of the left and right parties would merge, while the PMDB would stay as a centrist party in a 'kingmaker' role.

Brazil is fairly politically stable, and the fairly powerful office of President is able to balance out a fairly fragmented legislature. The question of how the two branches balance in presidential systems around the world is an interesting one, but it seems that the current Brazilian balance is fairly prudent for that country.

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