EUBrasil: The Brazilian elections decided… little

It was Dilma Rousseff who won in a tough victory (51,64% against 48,36%), but nothing compared to the complicated governance that lies ahead and the little leeway to change the status quo, writes Professor Andrés Malamud, PhD by University of Lisbon and member of the EUBrasil Association.

Dilma Rousseff managed to have herself re-elected and the program ‘Bolsa Família’ will be maintained. Nonetheless, had Aécio won, the program would still have been continued. These elections were poorly decisive for two reasons. The first is that Brazilian democracy is secured, or, from another perspective, blocked: it doesn’t break, but at the same time, it doesn’t change. The second is that the elections in Latin America are more influenced by international factors rather than domestic factors; hence the natural conclusion is that whoever governs does not make much of a difference. In other words, something may change in Brazil, but it is unlikely to be because of the election result.

In the past twenty years, the Brazilian political system has developed three constants: multiparty politics in congress, bipartisanism in the presidency and coalitions in the cabinet.

The enormous number of parties is not insignificant: in fact, Brazil has the most fragmented parliament in the world. The number of effective parties is 13, which is equivalent to having 13 parliamentary groups each with 8% of the seats. In practice, the governing Workers’ Party (PT) does not exceed 15% and is surpassed by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) in the Senate. The result is that the construction of a legislative majority to approve government projects requires a lot of money.

Paradoxically, in the presidential elections the country has been a bipartisan throughout the last twenty years. Since 1994, only PT and PSDB have alternated between first and second place. The largest party, PMDB, does not present candidates but has had numerous vice-presidents in its list of predecessors.

The combination of a fragmented parliament and a bipartisan presidency results in a form of government known as coalition presidentialism. The outcome is an oversized ministry, which currently includes 39 ministers from 10 different political parties. Consequently, we are left with a country that self-governs but does not reform because the budget suffices to pay the politicians but not the politics.

In a recent study, political scientists Daniela Campello and César Zucco identified the determinants of voting in Latin America. They concluded that the voters reward or punish their presidents owing to factors unrelated to management. The study revealed that it is possible to predict the reelection of a president or their party without considering domestic factors: it is enough to consider the price of natural resources (that are exported) and international interest rates (that determine the availability of credit).

The reason for Dilma having been reelected is that the economy is stagnating but is still not declining. However, the outlook is negative: inflation skyrockets and growth sinks. What lies ahead are bills to pay and little money in the bank, which bodes for turbulent governance.

Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa