Monday, December 04, 2006

Big News for Brazilian Politics

I wanted to write about this last week, but travels to parts of Brazil outside of Rio prevented me from doing so today. In a little-known fact to most Americans and anybody outside of Brazil, Brazil's governmental system is one of the most paradoxical in the world to many laymen and political scientists, both Brazilian and elsewhere, for one reason: it is a parliamentary presidency. Thus, while Brazil elects presidents (most recently being Luis Inacio Lula da Silva's re-election), the presidents themselves depend on coalition-building to get their agendas accomplished with Congress.

This provided one of the biggest obstacles to Lula's first administration, as much of the reform and social improvement he sought to accomplish met roadblocks in a Congress in which his party (the PT) struggled to gain majority votes. Indeed, in 2005, corruption scandals emerged when questionable exchanges of money to rightist senators in exchange for votes to approve some of Lula's plans came to light (to be fair to Lula, this was apparently orchestrated behind his back, and he not only was unaware of the going-ons while they happened, once they finally came to light, he launched a full investigation into his own party. Additionally, the previous administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso performed a similar practice in order to get congressional approval to amend the constitution so that presidents could run for re-election for a second term, an amendment which he successfully bought from Congress and then used to his advantage, gaining re-election in 1998). This coalition-building (and the sometimes-shady deals it leads to) has dominated Brazil's government since the return to direct elections in 1990, and has led many scholars, in Brazil, in the U.S., and elsewhere, to argue whether a presidential-parliamentary system can function, not only in the case of Brazil, but as a broader model in the abstract.

All this can be debated endlessly, but there was big news for Lula last week. The PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro), Brazil's largest party (and the true "center" of Brazil's political spectrum) agreed to join Lula in his coalition building last week, giving him a Congressional majority. The PMDB had abstained from full-party support in his first administration (2002-2006), though certainly many individuals did vote for his programs. Certainly, this will not be an open congressional mandate for Lula to do as he pleases, but it should hopefully allow him to increase his plans for social equality (such as improving educational opportunities, helping the poor be able to afford enough food to stay alive and healthy, etc.) in ways that he was unable to do in his first administration.