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Brazil - Politics - Background

Getúlio Vargas19301954
Juscelino Kubitschek19561961
Jânio Quadros19611961
João Goulart19611964
Humberto Castelo Branco19641967
Artur da Costa e Silva 19671969
Emílio Garrastazú Médici19691974
Ernesto Geisel19741979
João Figueiredo19791985
Tancredo Neves19851985
Jose Sarney19851990
Fernando Collor de Mello19901992
Itamar Franco19921994
Fernando Henrique Cardoso19952002
Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva20022010
Dilma Vana Rousseff20102018
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Voting is mandatory for Brazilians aged 18 to 70, and optional for those as young as 16 or over 70. While avoiding open conflict, Brazilian society has gone through transitions that in general have moved in the direction of modernization and democracy. There is a strong Brazilian tradition of nonviolent resolution of conflicts. Avoidance of organized conflict between the privileged and the poor in Brazil can be attributed in part to the corporatist system set up during the regime of Getúlio Dorneles Vargas (president, 1930-45, 1951-54) in the 1930s and 1940s. This system was designed to preempt direct class confrontation through well-controlled concessions to workers. For the most part, contemporary violence cannot easily be construed as a class struggle, at least as a struggle that involves collective consciousness and action. It is essentially particularistic and opportunistic at the individual level, although it often reflects perceptions of social injustice.

In contrast to developed countries, Brazil had few organizations--interest groups, associations, leagues, clubs, and NGOs--up until the 1970s. This lack of mediation between government and society was characteristic of a paternalistic and authoritarian social structure with a small but powerful elite and a dispossessed majority. During the 1970s and early 1980s, however, in part because of the growth of the middle class, a wide variety of social movements and local and national organizations appeared and expanded. Many engaged in some kind of political activity. Women's groups also appeared. Increasingly, social and political organizations reached into the lower classes. A significant number were connected directly or indirectly to the Roman Catholic Church, which sponsored CEBs (Ecclesiastical Base Communities) as part of its "option for the poor."

Independent labor movements also grew during the 1980s. People took to the streets in 1984 to press for direct elections for president, as they did in 1992 to demand the impeachment of President Collor de Mello. Once a new constitution was written in 1988 and a president was chosen through direct elections in 1989, opposition or resistance movements were forced to redefine their roles.

With democracy re-established in 1988 after decades of military dictatorship, Brazil's democratic institutions are generally strong and stable. Ongoing public scandals involving the leadership of the Senate and various members of Congress have further eroded the legislature's power vis-a-vis the executive and its ratings among the Brazilian public. The court system remains cumbersome and unreliable, but has taken limited steps to curb impunity among public officials, which have been well received by a public accustomed to abuses by authorities.

Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to his impeachment and ultimately, resignation. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term. Political and labor strikes and demonstrations occur occasionally in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation. In addition, criminal organizations in Sao Paulo have in the past staged campaigns against public institutions.

To date, all democratically elected presidents that followed Itamar Franco started and finished their mandate with no interruptions in the constitutional order. On October 3, 1994 Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. Cardoso took office January 1, 1995, and pursued a program of ambitious economic reform. President Cardoso was elected with the support of a heterodox alliance of his own center-left Social Democratic Party, the PSDB, and two center-right parties, the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB). Brazil's largest party, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), joined Cardoso's governing coalition after the election, as did the center-right PPB, the Brazilian Progressive Party, in 1996, after its formation from three conservative parties the previous year. Federal deputies and senators who belong to the parties comprising the government coalition do not always vote with the government. As a result, President Cardoso had difficulty, at times, gaining sufficient support for some of his legislative priorities, despite the fact that his coalition parties hold an overwhelming majority of congressional seats. Nevertheless, as the Cardoso Administration ended its fourth year, it has accomplished many of its legislative and reform objectives. He was re-elected in 1998 for a second 4-year term.

In the run up to the 2002 elections Brazil suffered a serious confidence shock as investors waited to see whether President Lula delivered on his commitment to a responsible economic policy. This led to sharp spikes in both Brazil's risk rating and the exchange rate (with the Real peaking at R$4/US$). Many investors and the country's elites were concerned about the commitment of the da Silva government to the liberal developmental model that predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso had supported. Only a few years earlier da Silva's party sponsored a referendum on a debt moratorium, or a decade and a half earlier when da Silva announced his interest in establishing a socialist government in Brazil.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was elected president in 2002, after his fourth campaign for the office. Leftists were positively ecstatic when Lula, a former union leader, assumed the presidency of Brazil in early 2003. Following a campaign pregnant with ambiguous plans of high growth and low inflation, the da Silva government-in-waiting was careful to support monetary tightening and trade liberalization. President Lula was Brazil's first working-class president.

Once in office President da Silva clearly prioritized inflation over growth. Market sentiment improved as President Lula and his team have carried through sound macroeconomic policies built on the three pillars of inflation targeting, a floating exchange rate and fiscal austerity. In office Lula took a prudent fiscal path, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to maintain tight fiscal austerity policies. At the same time, he made fighting poverty through conditional transfer payments an important element of his policies.

Lula was re-elected in 2006 for a second 4-year term. Continuity and legacy were the guiding lights of Lula's second term. Lula continued to shape his legacy as a friend of the poor and builder of a foundation for prosperity for the lower and middle classes through broad social welfare programs and a vast, new economic growth program of public works and growth incentives. At the same time, Lula failed to promote needed reforms to abolish a political culture of corruption, clientelism, and spoils. Lula remained a popular president -- one of the most popular in Brazil's history and indeed in the world today, with approval ratings still as high as 75 percent seven years into his presidency. This sustained popularity is based on a combination of his personal connection with the country's lower classes, orthodox economic policies, and expanded social programs.

Lula was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term and designated Civil Household Minister (Prime Minister-equivalent) Dilma Rousseff as his party's candidate to succeed him. Initially, Rousseff was a distant second in the polls to likely opposition candidate Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra, but the race remained unpredictable. By January 2010, polling indicated that likely Workers' Party (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, President Lula's chosen successor, had closed much of the gap with front-running opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) candidate Jose Serra, and trailed by less than ten points in a two-way race for the October 2010 election. The narrowing of the race was widely expected; the campaign entered a zone where predictions were more difficult, as both Rousseff and Serra struggled to overcome public perceptions that had limited their respective voter preference ratings.

Rousseff's harshest critics most often emphasized that poor television and public speaking skills would kill her candidacy. Other critics take a more subtle tack, arguing somewhat counterintuitively that Brazil's desire for continuity after years of progress and prosperity actually benefits Serra, because he is seen by many as more likely to follow the economic path laid out by Cardoso and followed by Lula. Others argued that the social base of the country has developed to the extent that it would prefer to alternate parties in power in order to retain continuity, rather than keep one party in power long-term, thereby facilitating a hard shift to that party's side of the political spectrum.



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Page last modified: 20-03-2016 11:10:22 ZULU