Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, pleased as punch to have ensured that President Temer could not be prosecuted, is now dedicated to saving the bacon of its own members by adopting something called political reform.
There can be no doubt that the current method of electing federal legislative representatives of the people is a disaster. There are now 27 political parties represented in the federal Chamber, none of which stand for anything at all other than the personal aggrandizement and unjust enrichment of their leaders.
Worse, neither the parties nor their leaders care a whit about the people who voted in the last election — which explains the overwhelming legislative support for a President who has less than seven percent of the total population supporting him.
What the parties and their leaders are now doing is amending the constitution to install a new electoral system that will ensure they remain in office. This system is called the “Distritão” which literally translates into “big district”.
This system has been tried and rejected by many countries, including Japan, and is now in place in only three countries — Afghanistan, Jordan and Vanuatu — none of which has ever been noted for its democratic characteristics.
Under the Distritão, every state is an electoral district — there are no geographical subdivisions, so those candidates receiving the most votes statewide are elected. Each state, under the Constitution, has between 8 and 70 federal deputies. The Distritão thus resembles elections for the Senate, where each state has three senators, and the candidates with the most votes are seated.
Under Brazil’s current “proportional” system, like the Distritão, each state is an electoral district. People vote for individual candidates, but the seats in the Chamber are allocated to political parties, depending on the proportion of the overall vote their list of candidates has garnered.
Statistics show that, on average, some ten percent of the members of the Chamber received fewer votes than other candidates. This usually occurs when a party has a huge vote-getter (e.g. Tiririca the Clown) and other candidates of that party ride the coattails into office, even though they themselves received very few votes.
The Distritão “cures” this alleged defect by eliminating votes for a political party — votes go to individual candidates only, just as they do in Senate races, and not to the party.
The main effect of the Distritão is that well-known politicians have a much greater possibility of remaining in office — name recognition is key in Brazil. The Distritão will reduce the number of representatives from places outside the state capital, where the political leaders and the mass media reign supreme. And it will reduce the number of candidates from splinter groups within parties.
In a country where most of the well-known politicians are known to be corrupt, it seems highly unlikely that, under the Distritão, voters will be able to “throw the rascals out” because the rascals will control the parties and become perennial candidates.
There are far better electoral systems around the world, but Brazil’s corrupt Congress will never choose one of those.