Published on 07/21/2021 10:15 AM
(Credit: Sergio Lima/AFP)
With two impeachments in less than 30 years, recurring political and institutional crises and a climate of political instability whenever the economy deteriorates or corruption schemes are revealed, there are those who advocate the presidential coalition model, valid today in Brazil, that is ineffective. Last Monday (19), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Arthur Lyra (PP-AL), announced to defend the debate on the return of the semi-presidential system to the 2026 elections.
Lira’s argument is that the project could help reduce the “chronic instability” that, he says, the country has long faced. Adoption of this system is advocated by relevant names in national politics, such as former President of the Republic Michel Temer (MDB), Minister of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Luis Roberto Clay.
However, the real motives of the lira are unclear, and experts see the possibility of a long-term plan to achieve more political significance. A semi-presidential system would give Congress more power. This is because the executive branch will not be limited to making the president of the republic take decisions. He will share power with the prime minister, appointed by the president, who will be the head of government, with the power to appoint and prime minister.
That’s explains Paulo Kramer, UnB’s retired political science professor and political risk analyst. He notes that “unlike the classical parliamentary system adopted in places such as the United Kingdom, Italy, and Norway, under a semi-presidential system, the president is directly elected.”
“It is proven that: the president elected by the people will share power as prime minister. He will not only have ceremonial functions, but he will have command of the armed forces, foreign policy and the legitimate authority that he has gained at the ballot box,” Kramer said. Political culture is “perilous, backward, unstable and immature”.
“This could lead to the following result: a president, a head of state, elected with tens of millions of votes, and on the other hand, a head of government, a deputy or a senator who might have been elected with millions of fewer votes. It would be an organized crisis,” the expert noted. He believes that the presidential system is a failure, given the large number of parties in Brazil.
“The truth is that the only presidential system that works in the world, the United States, is a system designed over 200 years ago by the framers of the American Constitution, but designed to work with only two parties.” Kramer therefore advocates a classic parliament model in which the president loses most of his powers and the legislature is the hero.
The country already has a government controlled by parliament – albeit unofficially. This is because, in a presidential coalition system, if the President of the Republic does not make agreements and negotiate positions or budget adjustments, he loses the support of Congress and becomes politically weak, affecting his ability to govern.
A model of parliament that gave Centrão, for example, the leadership role in the political decisions that currently fall to the executive branch would be chaotic. That is the view of Eduardo Green, political scientist and professor at FGV EAESP. “In the present Congress, with Centrão in charge of everything, what is the probability that Parliament will consider the policies for Brazil in this context? He emphasized that it is concerned with the electoral fund with amendments.”
Furthermore, he points out that the main examples of today’s semi-presidential system, in France and Portugal, occur in a context with fewer political parties. Today, under the presidential coalition system, there is vote buying, amendments, a secret budget and everything else. The logic is: the fewer parties I have, the greater the possibility of forming a coalition. The argument in favor of this system is that it can preserve powers, and avoid institutional crises, such as impeachment, because the president will retain his position and the prime minister will fall.
In this case, the prime minister can be ousted if there is a motion of no-confidence, when Parliament realizes that he is no longer in a position to rule. The President of the Republic can also “expel” him.
Opposition parties, especially the Labor Party, have set themselves against the model, claiming it is a game-changing maneuver and preventing the left from assuming executive power again. The main argument is that the population prefers the presidential model. Yesterday, former President Lula said the debate was “a blow that prevents us from winning the elections.”
Greene says, however, that using the referendums of 1963 and 1993 as a basis for debate is not possible. It is a flawed argument. The changes of society and its systems are not eternal, they need to be modified. The debate is to see if this change is not so speculative, as suggesting a current crisis. He explains that as soon as it is contracted for the year 2026, the entire political system begins to organize itself due to this change.”
We must not discount this suggestion. We are in danger of being held accountable for the third time in 30 years. The Brazilian system has proven fragile. He adds that thinking of solutions for him is not unhelpful.
Parliamentarians support the changes
The idea is welcome among federal lawmakers – with the exception of those who make up the opposition. Representative Fábio Trad (PSD-MS) supports the form, as long as it will only be in effect from 2026 onwards. I think it is a crisis buffer that can contribute to the simplification of routine activities of national policy without a solution to continuity with the potential for institutional rupture.”
For him, it is time for the country to experience a governance model that “confronts this perennial crisis we have been witnessing for a decade, with repeated calls for accountability and instability affecting the economy and people’s lives”. He believes that change, however, must pass through a referendum, to live up to tradition. Arthur Lyra advocated for the change by proposing to amend the Constitution (PEC).
Rep. Kim Cataguirre (DEM-SP), on Lira’s side, sees an attempt to shift the focus of more than 100 impeachment motions against Bolsonaro which he refuses to move forward with. But he claims that he supports the parliamentary model where the President of the Republic has only a symbolic role. This would, according to him, “make it easier to resolve political crises.”
In a parliamentary system, Congress is obligated to form a majority, otherwise it is dissolved. There is more representation: the main candidates for prime minister, even if defeated, lead their seats to the rest of the legislature, and actively participate in public debate,” he argues. There is also less space for populist leaders, he argues.
Katagiri realizes that a change in the system of government can take place through the PEC. “I understand that the only condition for a referendum on the system of government has already been made, and it is in the Transitional Constitutional Provisions Act (ADCT). Now it has to be by the PEC, but the population can be consulted before,” he continues.