Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Still a Traditional Political Class? Patterns of Parliamentary Recruitment in Brazil (1946-2002)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Still a Traditional Political Class? Patterns of Parliamentary Recruitment in Brazil (1946-2002)

Article excerpt

Abstract. This article aims at identifying patterns of parliamentary recruitment in Brazil. Fifteen legislatures elected between 1946 and 2002 to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies are investigated. Data on the path and political experience of every Brazilian federal representative are examined, including the representative's point of entry into politics, offices held, and length of career before achieving a parliamentary seat. Results show that parliamentary recruitment in Brazil demonstrates a pattern of lateral entry into a legislative career. A high and continuous parliamentary renewal rate is the most prominent feature and is a phenomenon common to different regions, states, and parties. The marked turnover does not take place only in caucuses of urban and electorally competitive states. Neither is it a phenomenon unknown among more conservative party caucuses. Even traditional, conservative parties, over this time period, have experienced significant levels of turnover inside their caucuses in the legislature.

Resume. Cet article vise a identifier les formes de recrutement parlementaires au Bresil. Quinze legislatures elues entre 1946 et 2002 a la chambre de deputes bresilienne sont analysees. Des donnees sur le cheminement et l'experience politique de chaque representant federal bresilien sont examinees, incluant le point d'entree du representant en politique, les fonctions occupees et la duree de sa carriere avant d'acceder a un siege parlementaire. Les resultats indiquent que le recrutement parlementaire au Bresil demontre une tendance d'entree laterale a une carriere legislative. La caracteristique la plus saillante de ce processus est le taux de renouvellement haut et continu, un phenomene commun aux differentes regions, etats et partis. Ce roulement marque n'a pas seulement lieu dans les caucus d'etats urbains et electoralement competitifs. Lors de la periode consideree, meme les partis traditionnels et conservateurs ont connu des niveaux significatifs de roulement a l'interieur de leur caucus dans la Legislature.


Diagnoses made in the early 1990s about the performance of Brazilian political institutions persistently predicted incompatibility between presidentialism, proportional representation, and governability. In summary, the argument reproduced a certain canonical knowledge, stressing the plebiscitary nature of the majority vote for the presidential executive, as opposed to local or regional links for the distribution of parliamentary seats. Thus it was assumed that the result would be executive-legislative relationships conditioned by zero-sum dynamics, by parliamentary irresponsibility regarding government programs, and by the temptation for the president to resort to populist formulas as a strategy to compensate for the poor cooperation of Congress (Lamounier, Linz, Lijphart, and Valenzuela 1991).

The actual political process, however, showed a different set of dynamics when compared to the bleak prognoses of an impending governability crisis. Notwithstanding the omens cast on the combination of institutional presidentialism and proportional representation, the interactions between the executive and the legislature showed a continuous governmental command over the decision-making process of Congress, associated with the presence of stable and predictable government coalitions. The results have been made known by Figueiredo and Limongi (1999, 102): 86% of laws passed between 1989 and 1998 came from the executive, and governments succeeded in passing no less than 78% of their proposals submitted to the legislature, out of which 69% were passed in the year of their submission.

Paradoxically, the institutional presidentialism/proportional representation combination generated, in the unique Brazilian case, a government hypertrophy and the lack of an institutional counterweight to the decision-making power of the executive. It seems acceptable to suggest that the Brazilian institutional architecture lacks agencies that are willing and able to decrease the autonomy of the executive, which would produce incentives to a more consortial operation among relevant institutions and party players. …

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