Social Democratization & Political Democracy

Remarks by Dr. Francisco Weffort

The current political crisis in Brazil is the unfolding of some imbalances and distortions that affect for some decades the institutional system. We have had decades of history characterized by authoritarian, striking rush institutional instability, notable urban sprawl and extraordinary growth economic since the years of 1930, in addition to a strong expansion of State and growing statist  intervention in the economy and in society. This extensive process, which has been called by some sociologists of "democratisation through authoritarian ways" (Alain Touraine), leads in current times to a surprising political paralysis that worsens by a severe economic depression. In the history of Brazil, as common in such situations in Latin America, this crisis involves serious risks for political democracy in the country.


The image of politics was consolidated in recent decades as something apart from society, almost exclusive subject of majestic estates that predominate in Parliament, and in the high spheres of the Executive and the Judiciary system. That means the all that set of institutional power of the country. Brasília, headquarters of the highest system of institutional power hierarchies, came to be seen as the "Fantasy Island" that many of us already announced years 60.  The isolation of politics has become a general phenomenon, affecting institutional groups of power also in the States and municipalities. The corporatism and nepotism are widespread in all the activities of the nation, in an atmosphere that favors friends with benefits and stipends. Today, corruption has become a systemic phenomenon. Situations of political regression are not new in our history of our unstable democratic development. But rarely do we get at some point to the extreme that we see nowadays.


Brazil is characterized as a country for a long time of imperial presidencialism, weak Parlament and disbalanced Federalism. We know that in the 1988 Constituent Assembly some representatives talked a lot about  "authoritarian rests" that we have as heritage of the 1964 military regime.    

It was not, however, the only "junk" inherited in our recent history. In times of the Constituent Assembly of 1945-46 we should remember the authoritarian  legacy of corporativists new laws on trade union organization made in 1943 which since then has been applying both to segments of businessmen and workers. In this way, the Brazilian presidentialism has authoritarian features that makes use whithout inhibitions when, eventually, lacks democratic resources for the initiatives it intends to take. It is clear the power of federal Executive on most provintial States, through a complex network of resources that are as prizes, both your removal can be worth as punishment. Today, this kind of imperial Presidential power reaches, for better or for worse, thousands of towns that spread in the vastness of the Brazilian territory. As said in the Brazilian tradition,  “favor for friends, for enemies the law". All this bad tradition currently undermines the functioning of our representative democracy.  


There is no denying in Brazil that we have freedom to vote and freedom of opinion. In addition to that, we could say that we left  behind in the history of the country the restrictions that we live under the weight of the Cold War, which in those years limited (or even banned) political participation of certain segments of opinion, reaching sometimes extremes of prohibition and violence. Today, at least from the electoral point of view, we are one of the largest democracies in the world. In addition to the freedom to vote, it is always good to remember, especially when it comes to a still fragile democracy, the fre working of the press and, in general, of the media. Under these aspects, we are one of the largest democracies in the world.

All of us  know something about the 1929 crisis. OK, if Brazil might be seen today in a sense as a modern country, at large measure that modernity is born from  that crisis. The 1929  economic and social effects joined in a international context that in the case of Brasil arrived to the fall of  traditional liberal state and the fall of traditional oligarquies, opening the ways for new social forces, as well as for the starting emergence of urban masses in politics. Those would be the ways for a new beginning for democracy in Brazil. Of course, the renovation forces were winners, but not completely. Let us see some descriptive numbers.

Population in 1930 in Brazil arrived 37 millions persons, two millions e five hundred thousand electors. In 1930 elections the electoral effective presence arrived only 5%. Today, the Brazilian population arrives 200 millions persons and the electoral population goes near 140 millions electors, near to 70% of the population, much more than the 5% de 1930. 

Recent research  (Jairo Nicolau)  offers impressing images of growth of the electoral behavior after the years post 1945. In the years 1945-1962, the population growth was of  60%, the electoral population grew 150 % and the electoral presence grew 139%. During the years 1966-1982  population grew 49%,  electorate grew 163% e the  electoral presence arrived 180%. If we consider the years 1945-1998, as a whole, the population  growth was of 250%, the electorate of  1.330 % and electoral behavior arrived 1.250%. When we see those numbers, we can think of recent Brazilian political history as a fight between criteria of representative democracy and practice of corporatists regimes.   


Since the years of 1930 until today, the number of political parties grew up under the stimulus of the facilities offered by the electoral law and the public resources for the financing of elections. In the period 1945 to 1964 political parties remained within reasonable limits: three main parties and 10 more for ideological, regional alliances or “alliances for convenience”. Since 1985 the number of parties grew beyond grew beyond reasonable limits. Today we have 34 parties with representation in the National Congress, of which maybe 10 with any real policy pertinence, the others 24 to “ideological alliances” or “convenience alliances”. Instead of serving al least for formation of new Governments, those additional parties serve to disrupt the atmosphere in which the new government must act. Besides these, there are 28 new parties “in the making”, working for permission of  the electoral courts. It is the same old story, those are not real parties, but groups of experts in “parochial affairs” and, for worse, “financial-business politics”. 

5 - 1930 WAS THE BEGINNING - Even among scholars of the years 1930 of the last century, few people remember today how the flags of institutional reform and the moralization of political customs inspired in those years renewal forces, as they were called then, the forces of the revolution.

Something similar might be seen at present times. In spite of the modernization of recent times, the right of vote is affected
by anomalies as we have seen in the past. The main problem in the 30’s and worse in present times is the  huge distance between representatives and represented . According to some opinion polls, most voters quickly forget the names of the members in which voted in the last elections. As for elected members, these for your time, most of them, forget quickly the campaign promises. This is particularly true for parliamentary elections, especially elections to the Federal Chamber, although it can also occur for the legislative assemblies in the provintial states. The same can occur, in some cases, with the results of some majority elections, although in these accessions seem mass governed by more long lasting and, perhaps, a more attentive.


The mentioned distance between representatives and citizenship was registered in the democracy of 1946, but it was less expressive than the contradiction since then when the new Constitution recognized face to face to the new representative system established the new corporative system inherited from the fascist influences of the past years 30.  In the years previous to 1945, liberals and socialists made criticisms to corporatist ideas and proposals, of course in the margins of the dictatorial regime of 1937. And in the early years de la Constitucion de 1946, those criticisms were again propososed by a book of Evaristo de Moraes Filho, under the title of  “O problema do sindicato unico no Brasil”. That was part of an important debate around the work of Oliveira Vianna, perhaps  the most importan intelectual and political influence of the moment.

The corporatism of Oliveira Vianna meant not only the  workers organization but also the relations among the State and the business community. Oliveira Vianna corporatist theory was a general conception of Brazilian  society. Oliveira and his followers thought about Brazilian society as an amorphous society, unable to organize y, by consequence, needing to be represented. The mission of organizing the society and  make it able  to represent itself would be, of course, a mission of the State. 
I want to say clearly that reference to Alain Touraine is a reference to a vey diferrent intelectual tradition, of a book written at a very diferent time. The idea of this Brazilian period as a period of "democratizacion through authoritarian ways" is related strictly to empirical observation, not participation. By different paths, we mention here different theories about what happened in Brazil (and  other countries) when those countries have made the historical experience of passing from the liberal-oligarquic period to the period of liberal democracy. In the case of Brazil, and quizas of Argentina, that was the first phase of transition of an agrarian society to a urban, modern, society.
In countries like Brazil in Argentina not only liberalism was autoritarian in that period, but also other varieties of emergent political thought of that time. By the way is necessary to remember that it was a period of very serious fragilities of liberalism. It is necessary remember  in the case of Brazil, the influence of salarism, dominant in Portugal. In the case of Argentina, the influence of  the franquista ideology then alive in Spain. It is evident that the fascist influence of Mussollini, from Italy,  operates on the mentioned countries, helping in favour of corporatism in both countries. 
Some official numbers: in the year of 2011 workers linked to unions arrive to 16 millions, about 17.2% of occupied people. But the more surprising is the number of unions reconized by law in the country. In the same year of 2011, we have 10,167 workers unions and 4,840 employers unions. Amazing numbers. According to an Attorney, "the Union structure are like a pyramid, in the grounds are the en unions and in the higher level, the Government". But how many of those unions are real ones? Recent numbers given to public from a trade-unions congress said  that about 3000 of trade-unions never han participated of any salary bargain with employers. More than that, according to the Secretary of Labour of Ministry of Labour, there are formal unions which are not real unions. There are “sindicatos de carimbo” (“unions of stamp”, created only to raise money, to get a part of the “imposto sindical”, the compulsory pay, made by each worker, one day-salary-worker by year.). Today the unions, federations and confederations  — so much that representatives to workers and to industrialists — raised R $3.5 bilhones de reales en 2016. Another information: in the year  2007, first year with official numbers, te amount of money arrived R $2.23 billiones.
That means that Brazil has today the  spectacular number of around diez mil unions sustained mainly by the State. Those corporatist principles inspired the building of the construcion organisational system of Association del business side.       


We in Brazil have two voting systems, the majority for executives and for the Senate, and proportional to the city councils, State Parliaments and also to the federal Chamber.
For Parliament, the proportional representation system, with open lists, was adopted from 1930, in reaction to the oligarchic dominance which imposed restrictions on minorities in the elections of the previous decades. The new system ran in the elections of 1932, 34 and 35, emphasizing freedom of opinion, and, above all, the right to expression of minorities. Consolidated from the redemocratization in 1945, remained until 1964. After the coup of 1964, with elections under government control, the proportional system happened to have a validity doubtful, especially formal. In 1985, in the end of authoritarian regime, it was fully restored.            

In Brazil, the characteristics of presidentialism practiced during democratic period,  - namely from 1945 until 1964 and also from 1985 to the present day,  -  match the description presented by political scientists about the "majority democracy". 
Rather than advocating participation in government decisions of all threads affected by them, the majority democracy want the democratic Government is the "majority government". And that the minority should form the opposition. Hard to distinguish in Brazil how this conception is a phenomenon of cultural and ideological field and how much is a phenomenon of the institutional reality of the organization of the Republic. But it is true that in both fields it occupies a dominant position. It follows the predominance of the Executive over Congress and Governments that get confused with the victorious party (and, eventually, their allies), with the Executive's control over the Central Bank, etc.

The popular preference is clearly for majority voting systems in elections for the Presidency, State Governments and municipalities. Nevertheless be a typical country of oligarchies parliamentarians, our executives are generally chosen by the masses. In this context, our democracy suffers from the evils characteristic that  Guillermo O´Donnell called "delegative democracy". In spaces created by the distance between representatives and represented, consecrated by tradition and by the duration of the institutional vices, the game is played as if in the act of voting, represented the representative give a "blank cheque". Obviously, competes for this "delegation" a sense of personal identity of the elector with the candidates, more than programmatic or ideological affinities.


According to the rules of proportional representation, the voter chooses the Deputy of your preference in a list organized by a party, in a dispute with other parties who organize their own lists. These are the "open lists" and apply to the State of the Federation and entering the election candidate. In this case, the Member State shall be regarded as "districts", despite the enormous differences in size to each other. Under current conditions, the first big problem of this system to elect members are in your application the districts that, in fact, are the same units in which elect the senators and Governors. And, as we all know, some of these "districts" have huge populations.

As has noted, in the proportional system, the choice to open list, rather than stimulate the inter-party competition, the proportional system tends to turn every party in a field of struggle intra-partidária. In fact, the candidates have as main opponents colleagues from his own list in which they find themselves. Decreasing the sense of competition between parties, each candidate's campaign tends to assume an eminently personal role and political parties play at second level, irrelevant in some cases.

In addition, in order to increase your electoral quota, parties tend to schedule their lists by choosing one or a few candidates with the alleged ability to pull votes. Since applicants in principle compete statewide, originates there a tendency to assimilate the proportional parliamentary election a majority election. A talented "vote puller", which assumes a role similar to that of majority leader when the Senate or Executive running a State or big city, can get a stock that will benefit several candidates of your party that, considered in isolation, not could the minimum necessary to get elected. All this combines with the electoral coalitions between different subtitles for an amazing effect: in many cases, the elector ends without knowing which candidates your vote helped elect     


Over time, the dictatorial source casuísmos married borns of democratic circumstances and together they produced results that often aggravate the problems that supposedly intend to solve. A clear example of "democratic casuísmos" is of the "provisional measures" established by the Constitution of 1988. The "MPs" are designed, it is said, to which the Executive could face emergencies and exceptional circumstances. The goal she laughed to produce immediately, the actions corresponding to the MP published by Executive, getting after the assessment of Congress, and of your ratification (or refusal) to proposed by MP. Which means these, even picked up the spirit of the law that created it, imply, therefore, a risk for democracy since the evaluation by Congress only when the initiatives proposed are reportedly in progress. 

The risks are still greater. As the houses of Congress are often jammed in your own business or are too slow, the Executive was rapidly transforming the "provisional measures" in rotina mesures. Thus, the "MPs", although born of a democratic climate, more like today with revivescências of the Decree-Law of 
Dictaduras pasadas.


According to recent research in the recent decades municipalities consolidate dependence on resources of federal government and provincial states. For the year of 2010,  94% of the  5,550 Brazilian  municipalities are pending at 70% of its usual expenses on federal government and provincial states.  About 83% of municipalities do not generate 20% of their incomes. Referring only the municipalities of the state of S. Paulo, it is informed that 80% of those municipalities only have employees in the public municipal administration.

There is data that showcases the imbalance of the  states representacion in the National Congress. The  Southeast region – particularly Sao Paulo – shows a deficit of 42 seats in the last parliamentary elections. More than that, Southeast was always underrepresented in the Congress. That became evident after 1978, as a kind of counterpart of creation of new states in the region Northeast can be interpreted as her counterpart of the creation of new states in the region North, mainly. In 1962, the territory of Acre became a State. In 1979 was created the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. In the decade of 1980, were created four new States: Rondônia, 1981; the same with Roraima and Amapá in the Constitution of 1988. In thoses years was created the  state of Tocantins. 

We have today a national average of 370,000 inhabitants per Member  of the National Congress. But in the new states like Acre, Amapá and Roraima, this quotient is near to 100,000. This quocient arrives 200,000 in Rondônia and Tocantins, that means only approaches 50% of the national quotient. Privileges granted to the representation of the new States work in favor of distortions at the Senate. Senators of new States might be elected with some miles votes. Senators of old historical States need to get hundreds of thousands of votes. In some cases they would need millions votes.