Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – To the surprise of many (including the Curmudgeon) the Brazilian Senate, on October 3rd, approved a Constitutional Amendment that, starting in 2019, will limit the number of political parties represented in federal, state and municipal legislatures.
The “barrier” is not direct, because it does not prevent parties from having representatives seated in the legislative bodies. Rather, what it does is bar parties from access to official sources of income — the federal electoral fund and the ability to have free TV time during election campaigns.
Since 2015, corporations have been banned from making campaign contributions, and individual political contributions are typically small. Therefore, the fund and the free TV are the principal sources of funding for political parties; it is supposed that without the funds, minuscule parties will not be able to get their propaganda out to voters.
The initial threshold for parties to cross is to have received at least 1.5 percent of the 2018 total vote for the federal Chamber of Deputies. Moreover, to reduce regional disparities, they must have received at least one percent of the total votes in at least nine Brazilian states, or have elected at least one federal deputy in at least nine states.
The percentages increase gradually over the next twelve years, so that by 2033, a party will only have access to official funding if it has received three percent of the vote for federal deputies in 2032, with two percent of the vote in at least nine states, or have elected fifteen federal deputies in nine states.
Based on the 2014 elections, some fourteen political parties (out of the 35 currently registered with the Electoral Tribunal) would not now be represented in Congress if the barrier clause had been in effect.
What this means is that the year 2018 should see a great consolidation of political parties, as the current minnows seek to ensure they will still receive funding in future elections. That is, in theory, a distinct improvement.
The current election rules, which greatly favor incumbents, remain in place for the 2018 elections. Moreover, at the very last minute, Congress also created a second election campaign fund, voting itself another R$1.7 billion (half a billion U.S. dollars). Thus, it is likely that 2019 will see a continuation of the corrupt current composition of Congress.
Is this “reform”? Is half a loaf better than none? The Curmudgeon doesn’t think so, but perhaps he’s wrong (again).