President loses strength, and pressure from Congress is the new normal in Brazilian politics

President loses strength, and pressure from Congress is the new normal in Brazilian politics
President loses strength, and pressure from Congress is the new normal in Brazilian politics

Reforms in recent years have changed the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches; Congress imposed consecutive defeats on Lula


Congress imposed consecutive defeats on President Lula (PT) in recent weeks and showed that, even after the government gave in, the centrão’s demands for positions and funds tend to continue.

According to experts who participated in a debate at the 47th annual meeting of Anpocs (National Association of Postgraduate Studies in Social Sciences), this type of incessant pressure from Congress is the new normal in Brazilian politics.

“Recent institutional changes have transformed governance in Brazil into something more complex than it was before,” said political scientist Lucio Rennó, professor at UnB (University of Brasília).

Lula says so. In the space of a few hours, he handed over command of Caixa Econômica Federal to an ally of Arthur Lira (PP-AL), president of the Chamber, and saw his nominee for the Federal Public Defender’s Office rejected in the Senate.

Later, he discovered that the change in Caixa would not be enough to obtain, in the Chamber, the necessary votes to approve crucial bills for the government’s economic agenda.

“The scenario that arises is much more difficult for the president to navigate, and Congress has become an unpredictable arena. You can’t expect that the government will approve everything it wants and that its proposals will come out unscathed,” said Rennó.


For him, the Executive now needs to be more concerned with preventing the voting of proposals that are negative for its interests than with advancing its own agenda.

“The approval of projects depends less on positions and funds than on the congruence of themes. This reduces the range of proposals that the Executive can discuss with Congress”, said the UnB professor.

At least four institutional reforms explain this new relationship between the Powers. The first concerns the procedure for processing provisional measures issued by the Presidency.

Successive changes over more than two decades mitigated the impact of this instrument, so that it became easier for Congress to modify its content or even reject it completely.


The second refers to the budget amendments made by parliamentarians. If before they could be blocked by the government, now they have become largely mandatory and non-transparent, which reduces the Executive’s bargaining power.

Another novelty in recent years is the restriction on appointments to certain commissioned positions, associated with the salary gap in the federal machine. As a result, the offer of positions became less attractive in negotiations.

Finally, there is an increase in the number of parties, which makes it difficult to form an allied base. Although this fragmentation process has been reversed in recent years, the majority of acronyms are still medium or small in size.

As icing on the cake, there is an extra ingredient: impeachment. “Such a fragmented and independent Congress increases the risks of being a government. The threat of impeachment today is much greater”, stated Rennó.


Part of these measures gained momentum amid corruption scandals, but they also corresponded to long-standing desires of deputies and senators, who wanted to have more power in the arrangement described by sociologist Sérgio Abranches as coalition presidentialism.

In a 1988 article, Abranches noticed something different in the Brazilian system from both American presidentialism —characterized by a game between just two parties— and European parliamentarism.

In the 1990s, different intellectuals sought to show how this regime would work in practice, and the solution almost always involved the use, by the Executive, of tools such as provisional measures, appointments and control of the Budget.


According to Lucio Rennó’s analysis, this organization was called into question; not coalition presidentialism itself, but the way of managing the coalition.


“Power was decentralized and the Legislature gained strength, but Congress’s accountability for public policies remains low,” said Rennó.

In the Anpocs debate, political scientist Maria do Socorro Braga, professor at UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos), listed other factors behind this new equation.

One of them is a geographical division between the parties and, in some cases, within the associations themselves. “This regional cleavage is very important,” she said.

Furthermore, stated the professor, “today we are in a system in which ideological polarization is also expressed from the point of view of the electorate, and politicians are increasingly affected by public opinion”.

Maria do Socorro also argued that institutional changes alter the behavior of parliamentarians.

The barrier clause and the end of corporate financing, for example, grant more power to certain groups within parties and change the way they campaign — including increasing the importance of amendments to please the electoral base.

Anthropologist Isabela Kalil, who closed the table, cited three elements of the reconfiguration of Bolsonarism that make life difficult for the Lula government.

The first, she said, is the internalization of Bolsonarism. Given that the PL has plans to elect 1,500 mayors next year, one can imagine how capillarization plays into the calculations of politicians from this party.

“The second point is the Bolsonarization of Congress and State institutions,” said Isabela, who is coordinator of the Far Right Observatory.

According to her, this process occurs not only in the security forces, in military sectors and among legal practitioners, but within the Legislature itself, with the adoption of conservative agendas that, for example, challenge the STF (Supreme Federal Court).

Isabela called this movement “low-intensity Bolsonarism” and says that the person who best represents it is the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco (PSD-MG), lavish in statements aimed at the conservative public.

To complete the picture, the anthropologist highlighted the parliamentary initiatives that aim to strip away rights provided for in the Constitution.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: President loses strength pressure Congress normal Brazilian politics



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