Brazilian Congress, 2014 Elections and Governability Challenges*

By Santos, Fabiano; Canello, Júlio | Brazilian Political Science Review, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Brazilian Congress, 2014 Elections and Governability Challenges*


Santos, Fabiano, Canello, Júlio, Brazilian Political Science Review


The following text is a research paper and as such, it does not intend to formulate a closed theoretical argument, thereby developing testable hypotheses; moreover, it does not claim to produce an empirical analysis of propositions. Its purpose is only to describe, in a minimally analytical form, the electoral results of 2014, focusing on the dispute for the seats of the National Congress. Although it is not our intention to promote a critical report of the literature, from this reading, it is possible to ponder over the claims and predictions of the columnists and analysts of Brazilian politics regarding the factors that will characterize the political process of the country, starting in 2015. Essentially, our objective is to discuss the following more general question: beyond the agreements and alliances that involved the electoral dispute, President Dilma Rousseff once again will face the usual political challenge of Brazilian presidentialism, i.e., to create and manage government coalitions capable of implementing a coherent program with a fragmented and heterogeneous Congress. Provisional answers to this issue will be formulated through a critical exam of the current hypotheses about the last elections in Brazil, including themes such as the increase in fragmentation, the supposed expansion of conservatives in the Legislative branch combined with a reduction of the left, and the supposed reduction of the potential government coalition.

This paper is subdivided into two other sections, followed by brief conclusions. First, we will describe the Congress elected in 2014 in terms of party seats, compare it with its composition before elections, and evaluate the changes in the size of the government coalition. We will then discuss the evolution of the parliament in terms of its ideological profile, considering the argument about the expansion of right-wing parties and their recent evolution in the legislative branch. Finally, we will briefly debate a few governability challenges the President faces and evaluate scenarios in terms of legislative agenda.

Electoral results and the new Congress

One of the fundamental aspects of governability in the next term will be the political atmosphere that the President finds in the National Congress. What kind of support will be possible? Where will she face resistance? And relative to which policies? In this paper, we consider it possible to project future scenarios on the basis of the recently elected Chamber of Deputies and Federal Senate by comparing it with the most recent legislatures. Although the size of the parties depends on the decisions made by the Electoral Justice1 and on the political dynamics at the beginning of 2015 regarding the composition of the ministries and state secretariats (which could change the numerical composition of the federal legislative branch), the parties are already showing the size of their representation for the next term.

In general terms, the balance of party seats seems to have been a surprise for a good part of the pre-election analyses. The results of the ballot boxes diverged from at least two projections-the one published by the Inter-Parliamentary Advisory Department (DIAP) and the estimates published by the Center for Congressional Studies (NECON)2. In particular, the expansion of the PSDB and the PRB and the reduction of the PT were at the limit of or even exceeded expectations. With 28 parties represented in the National Congress starting in 2015 (in 2014, there were 22 parties), the political scenario in the context of executive-legislative relations presents a significant potential for change. Although Rousseff was re-elected, the dialogue with Congress should undergo relevant changes during the next term, which makes it essential to first know the size of the partisan forces represented in the legislature.

Figure 1 shows the evolution of the main parties in the Chamber of Deputies since 2002. A short-term comparison of 2014 and 2015 legislatures highlights a significant reduction in the PT seats, the continued shrinking tendencies in the PMDB and DEM, and the expansion of PSB and PSDB, both of which were leveraged by presidential candidacies. …

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