Election Resources on the Internet:
Federal Elections in Brazil
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
   

Brazilian voters go to the polls on Sunday, October 5, 2014 to choose a President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, as well as members of the country's bicameral legislature, the National Congress.

An overview of the Brazilian electoral system is presented here. In addition, national- and state-level results are available here for the following federal elections:

      October 3 and 31, 2010       President       Federal Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      October 1st and 29, 2006       President       Federal Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      October 6 and 27, 2002       President       Federal Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      October 4, 1998       President       Federal Senate       Chamber of Deputies      

The election statistics presented in this space come from data issued by the Higher Electoral Court, which will have live 2014 election results in Portuguese.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The 1988 constitution stipulates that the Federative Republic of Brazil is a legal democratic state, in which all power emanates from the people, who exercise it by means of elected representatives or directly. Both the federal government and the governments of Brazil's 26 states consist of executive, legislative and judicial branches; likewise, the Federal District, where the capital city of Brasilia is located, has its own government and legislature.

Executive power is exercised by the President of the Republic, directly elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years. The president, who may be re-elected for only one subsequent term, is chosen by an absolute majority of votes, not counting blank or void votes. If no candidate attains an absolute majority in the first round of voting, a second round is held between the two candidates with the largest number of votes, and the candidate that obtains a majority of valid votes is deemed elected.

Legislative power is exercised by the National Congress, which consists of the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate.

The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 513 members directly elected for a four-year term of office by proportional representation in each state and the Federal District. Chamber seats are distributed among the federal units in proportion to population, but no unit may have fewer than eight or more than seventy seats. Each federal unit is an electoral constituency, in which political parties and coalitions of two or more parties submit lists of candidates; voters may choose one candidate and one party.

Chamber of Deputies seats are distributed in each constituency according to an electoral quotient, obtained by dividing the total number of valid votes by the number of constituency seats. Then, the number of votes each party or coalition has obtained is divided by the electoral quotient. The result of this division, disregarding fractions, is the party quotient, and each party or coalition elects as many deputies as its party quotient indicates; if there remain unallocated seats after the application of party quotients, these are distributed according to the largest average method. Within each party, mandates are assigned to list candidates with the largest number of votes until all seats are filled.

The Federal Senate's 81 members are directly elected for an eight-year term of office. Senate elections are held every four years, alternating between one-third (27) and two-thirds (54) of the seats. Each state and the Federal District chooses three senators by the plurality or first-past-the-post method, under which the candidates obtaining the largest number of votes are elected to office.

Electoral enrollment and voting are mandatory for persons over the age of eighteen; nonetheless, both are optional for the illiterate and those older than seventy, as well as for those older than sixteen and under eighteen.

The Political Parties

Brazil has developed a highly fragmented political party system since the transition to democracy in 1985, following more than two decades of military rule. Since 1990, there have been no fewer than eighteen parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies, and none of these has attained even a quarter of the seats on that legislative body. Nevertheless, four major parties stand out: the Workers' Party (PT), the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and the Democrats (DEM), previously the Liberal Front Party (PFL). Regarding ideological stance, the PT is considered a left-wing party and the PSDB a center to center-left party, while the PMDB is centrist and the PFL is positioned to the right-of-center.

Brazil's transition process to democracy began during the last years of military rule. In 1979, the artificial two-party system imposed by the military in 1965 was dissolved, and new political parties were allowed to form. The conservative Democratic Social Party (PDS) emerged as a successor of the governmental National Renewal Alliance (ARENA), while the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement reconstituted itself as the PMDB. Two groups sought to re-establish the Brazilian Labour Party (PTB) of the late president Getúlio Vargas, who ruled Brazil as a dictator from 1930 to 1945, and as a democratically elected president from 1951 until 1954, when he committed suicide. The authorities ruled that the group headed by Ivete Vargas (a relative of Getúlio) had the right to use the old party's name and initials; the group led by Leonel Brizola then founded the left-wing Democratic Labour Party (PDT). These four parties, along with the Workers' Party (PT), headed by union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took part in the 1982 election - Brazil's first free election in two decades. In the legislative vote, the PDS won the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies but failed to attain an absolute majority, while in the gubernatorial elections the opposition captured the country's three major states: São Paulo and Minas Gerais elected PMDB governors, and Rio de Janeiro chose the PDT's Leonel Brizola.

The military government had planned a controlled transition to democracy through the indirect election of a civilian president in a PDS-dominated electoral college, and the ruling party went on to choose Paulo Maluf as its presidential candidate. Maluf, a former governor of São Paulo, was (and remains) an extremely controversial figure in Brazil, linked to numerous corruption scandals over the course of his political career. In fact, such is his reputation that Brazilian Portuguese has acquired a verb derived from his last name: malufar, which means to steal from the public coffers.

The opposition parties, along with a group of PDS dissidents called the Liberal Front (FL), agitated in favor of holding direct presidential elections: they failed to attain this objective, but the breakaway Liberal Front deprived the PDS of its electoral college majority, and PMDB candidate Tancredo Neves was elected President, supported by the opposition parties and the FL. However, Neves - who had been governor of Minas Gerais since 1982, and prime minister of Brazil from 1961 to 1962, during a short-lived period of parliamentary government - fell gravely ill shortly before taking office and died after repeated surgery; José Sarney, vice-president elect and a PDS dissident, took over the presidency.

The implementation of a seemingly successful price control package - the Cruzado Plan - allowed the coalition government of the PMDB and the Liberal Front Party (PFL) to score a sweeping victory in the 1986 legislative and gubernatorial elections: the PMDB won an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, as well as all but one of the gubernatorial races; the PFL took the remaining one, and came in second place in the Chamber. The PDS faltered, while the left-wing parties (PDT and PT) registered modest gains. Following the legalization of all political parties, the number of parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies increased to twelve. The newly elected National Congress became a Constituent Assembly the following year, and set out to draft a new constitution to replace the authoritarian instruments of government inherited from the military regime. Meanwhile, the Cruzado Plan collapsed shortly after the 1986 election, and once again inflation spiraled out of control; eventually, the PMDB-PFL coalition broke apart.

In 1988, Brazil promulgated the new constitution, its eighth in history. This lengthy document, which originally had a total of 245 articles, retained the presidential form of government but limited the powers of the presidency, which could no longer rule by decree. That same year, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) split off the PMDB.

A total of twenty-one candidates ran in the 1989 presidential election, the first held by popular vote since 1960. In the first round, Fernando Collor de Mello, candidate of the small, center-right National Reconstruction Party (PRN), came out of nowhere to finish in first place (but without an absolute majority), followed by the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT); Leonel Brizola (PDT) finished third, narrowly behind Lula. Mário Covas of the PSDB achieved a respectable fourth place, ahead of Paulo Maluf (PDS), while the PMDB and PFL presidential candidates fared disastrously. In the runoff vote, Collor prevailed over Lula, becoming Brazil's youngest president.

However, Collor's presidency turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. During the nearly three years he held office, Collor was unable to effectively confront the profound economic crisis he inherited from his predecessor, nor was he able to muster congressional support for his proposals to cure the country's ills. Eventually, Collor appeared to be involved in a multi-million dollar corruption and influence-peddling scandal, which led Congress to initiate an impeachment trial against him. In late 1992, Collor resigned from office, shortly after the Senate had begun the impeachment trial. Collor's vice-president, Itamar Franco, held the presidency for the remainder of his unfinished mandate.

In 1993, President Franco named well-known sociologist (and then-Minister of Foreign Affairs) Fernando Henrique Cardoso as Minister of Finance. Cardoso introduced the Real Plan, which stabilized the country's finances and brought hyperinflation to an end. In the 1994 presidential election, Cardoso ran as the candidate of his party, the PSDB. The success of the Real Plan allowed Cardoso (who was also supported by the PFL and the PTB) to prevail by a wide margin over the PT's Lula da Silva and six other candidates, attaining an absolute majority in the first round of voting. In the 1998 presidential election, Cardoso - who had successfully persuaded Congress to amend the constitution and allow presidential re-election for a single term - was re-elected on the first round by an absolute majority, with Lula in second place once again.

In the 2002 presidential election, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ran for the fourth straight time as the PT candidate, but his campaign now emphasized "change without rupture." This pragmatic approach proved to be successful: in the first round of voting, Lula outpolled his closest adversary, the PSDB's José Serra, by a two-to-one margin, but fell short of an absolute majority; in the runoff election, Lula da Silva won the presidency by the largest vote margin ever recorded in the history of Brazil. At the same time, the PT secured the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

President Lula da Silva's government successfully continued the economic policies initiated by Cardoso, while establishing a number of social programs to combat poverty, most notably among them the Bolsa Família or Family Stipend, which benefits twelve million Brazilian families - approximately a third of the country's population. However, a number of corruption scandals seriously tarnished the Workers' Party reputation. The most damaging of these was the 2005 mensalão or monthly allowance scandal, which implicated a number of high-ranking party officials. Nonetheless, Lula was not directly linked to the aforementioned scandals, and he prevailed decisively over the PSDB's Geraldo Alckmin in the 2006 presidential election, albeit PT lost ground in the legislative contests and finished second - behind PMDB - in the Chamber of Deputies.

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Copyright © 2006-2014 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: October 5, 2014.