Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s biggest problem is that, institutionally, it’s living a lie. The 1988 Constitution created an essentially parliamentary system with many institutional features that do not belong to a presidential one. For starters, there are now 35 registered political parties, none of which stands for anything other than getting elected and feeding at the public trough.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

There isn’t even a minimal vote requirement for parties (which are private entities) to receive public campaign funds. There are “suplentes” or substitutes for legislators who take executive positions, but who can step back in whenever they want.

Recently, three of Dilma’s ministers returned to their seats in Congress, taking a temporary leave of absence from their daytime jobs, just so they could vote against impeachment of their boss.

There is the reprehensible, barely comprehensible “party coefficient” system of electing federal, state and municipal deputies, permitting the formation of election coalitions between parties, and ensuring that most deputies don’t actually represent anyone except themselves.

There are “medidas provisórias” or executive decrees with the force of law, common to the many failed parliamentary republics of the early 20th Century. Historically, both Hitler and Mussolini came to power legally by issuing the functional equivalent of “medidas provisórias”.

All these factors combine to make Brazil ungovernable by fair means, but governable by foul—“mensalão”, “Petrolão” and more. Lula understood this very well.

Back in 1999, when plumping for the impeachment of FHC, Lula said publicly that if elected he would use the plethora of parties to take power, distributing high-cash-flow ministries and plush jobs at cash-rich state-owned companies to cronies in exchange for votes. He did precisely that for eight years as President.

Even though sitting at Lula’s right hand the entire time, Dilma never learned the tricks of that trade until it was too late. Her last-gasp attempt to retain the title of President, however, was to appoint Lula as her unofficial Prime Minister. That’s equivalent to resignation and conversion to a parliamentary system whereby she, like Queen Elizabeth II, reigns but does not rule.

Dilma should have resigned months ago, as the Curmudgeon and many other commentators have long pointed out. Had she done so, Brazil would not be living through its current farce, where the corrupt “300 Picaretas” in Congress (Lula’s phrase) have voted to oust the president in favor of her vice president.

Votes of no confidence have no place in presidential systems, but Sunday, April 17th, the Brazilian Congress (oops! sorry, should have said Parliament…) gave a resounding vote of no confidence in Dilma, by an overwhelming 367 deputies out of 513. The Senate will soon conduct its own vote of confidence or no confidence.

Brazil’s biggest problem is that its people do not recognize they are living an institutional lie, where they have inherited the worst of both worlds.

The Curmudgeon, who once studied parliamentary vs presidential systems for one full academic year, begs his readers’ pardon for entering into the realm of political science, rather than mere politics.


  1. Of course they recognize, but what do you want them to do about it? Brazil doesn’t have any real leader to lead the fight.

  2. This is a good article.

    A parliamentary system would be better for Brasil. A semi-presidential system like all the other Portuguese countries would be even better for Brasil and the people.

  3. The Brazilian system of government is prone to presidential coalitions. Good point about the Congress using impeachment as a vote of no confidence.

  4. Dilma’s problem is not the Congress or even the Parliamentarist like system… She used very well the power of distribute Ministery and get the support of other parties (that was the reason to chose Temer as vice-President). Her problem was being irresponsible with her duties as President of Brazil, as Chairman of Petrobras, and purposeful use the public money to help her “friends” and party even if unlawful. She is just suffering the consequences… It happened late, but the people understood that she was not able to keep the country in the right track. She is an economist that does not understand of macroeconomic theory.

  5. Brazilians need to be talking about solutions at this time. Running a perennial marathon behind FDI is not good for the long term because the investors will naturally prioritize their profits first. This can cause uneven development in otherwise closely related neighbourhoods. Focus should instead be on improving the quality of education and to build up some motivation for the best minds to stay in the country and spark changes instead of moving abroad as part of brain drain. The quality and quantity of instructors need to improve for which they need to come through a good education system themselves. It is a noble profession that is neglected in search of better salary packages and even social status in some places. I think the other problems will solve themselves. Hoping for the best :)

  6. Scorching…it’s about time someone recognized and spoke on the farce. Brasileiros have been telling me for years that Brasil is not really a democracy.


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