In a recent interview with Valor Econômico on June 24, Sérgio Abranches, the political scientist who taught us so much about coalition presidentialism, declared: “the political model does not work”. To remedy this, Abranches recommends urgent reforms of the laws that regulate the presidential impeachment and the selection of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) and the establishment of the confirmatory referendum.
The reforms should remove the unilateral power available to the president of the Chamber of Deputies to initiate a process of impeachment of the chief executive and institute the three-fold compulsory list for the choice of the PGR. The confirmatory referendum would give the company back the right to cancel the mandate it gave to the tenant of the Planalto Palace.
We categorically agree that the Brazilian political system is not working. However, Brazil’s problems do not stem only from the centralization of power in the hands of the Speaker of the House or the lack of a mandatory list for the selection of the PGR. The President’s extensive prerogatives result from a delegation granted by parliamentarians interested in washing their hands during complicated and costly decisions. That is, they can be revoked or even extended. As for the obligatory list, even established, its original intention can be circumvented by a collusion between the Executive Power and the Legislative Power. The United States had the same problem under Trump, who used the Union Attorney General as if he were the President’s private prosecutor. Traditions don’t matter if elected officials ignore them.
Like Abranches, we also verify that in fact, the Brazilian Congress did not exercise the constitutional role of brake and counterweight to the autocratic tendencies of the Head of State, thus dissolving the separation between the powers prescribed by the Charter of 1988 .
The big problem, however, is not the lack of constitutional separation between the Executive and the Legislature, but rather the absolute separation between their bases and electoral performance, which in turn results in a lack of accountability. collective policy on the part of the government, generating the impression that parliamentarians do not think of the country, motivated only by narrow personal interests.
No wonder the politicians of the government look good in the legislative elections of 2022, even if Bolsonaro is not re-elected, as recalled by Gilberto Kassab, leader of the PSD (Social Democratic Party) and one of the most successful performers. shrewd from the Brazilian political scene. in an interview with Globo on July 4.
Such electoral “mismatch” is simply impossible in parliamentary systems and much more difficult in bipartisan presidential systems like the American one. Decoupling is impossible in parliamentarism because the Prime Minister lacks an independent electoral base. In a purely presidential or semi-presidential system, even though the elections for the Executive and the Legislature take place on the same day, the president’s constituency is national, while each legislator has a much smaller constituency geographically. The constituency of a prime minister is precisely the constituency of his parliamentary party. A president can win in one part of the country, while his party can be dominant in another.
The problem in Brazil is therefore the political parties and the institutional environment in which they operate. The current president has no party affiliation because he is not useful to him. Government politicians prefer to exclude Bolsonaro from their associations because, as Abranches notes, they are still unsure whether supporting the former captain is a cost or a benefit.
It is from the institutional-party problem that is born the appalling aberration which one observes in the country: the absence of vigorous opposition to a government which was so wrong and confronted so much the democratic mode. After all, where are the PT and the PSDB?
From the observation of the aberration mentioned above, an important lesson is drawn: the activation of the checks and balances does not depend on what is written in the Constitution, but on the perception, on the part of parliamentarians, that they can lose the next elections.
If members of Congress can decouple their electoral fate so completely from that of the presidency, why should they do anything about Bolsonaro? Ultimately, lawmakers were able to take advantage of the government’s political weakness by securing large slices of the federal budget without incurring significant election costs.
It could be that the PT is in the bush because he wants to simmer Bolsonaro. It could be that the PSDB is on the fence as much of its electorate voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 and, like the PT, they are also keen to see the former captain slowly being grilled. It is possible that both parties fear Pocketnarist fanaticism and its military wing. Moreover, it should be remembered that the PT-anti-petism polarization has not contributed to a common action of the parties and leaders who reject Bolsonaro.
In any case, the absence of checks and balances is the result of the absence of leadership in the opposition which – vigorously – is mobilizing forces in Congress and in society against the government. No country can rely solely on the judiciary to do this.
Therefore, to repair Brazilian political ills, we believe that the adoption of semi-presidentialism – a hybrid system in which a head of state elected by popular vote shares executive power with a head of government responsible to the legislature – is a step in the right direction, since it will match the electoral performance of the parliamentary majority with that of the head of government. A drastic reduction in the number of parties will also facilitate the task. Reforms such as those proposed by Sérgio Abranches are certainly important. However, deeper constitutional changes are needed to get to the heart of the party-institutional problem portrayed here.
* This article expresses the opinions of the authors and does not necessarily represent the institutional opinion of FGV and the University of Minnesota.
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