- Leticia Morey
- From BBC News Brazil in Sao Paulo
The proposal to adopt the “constituency” system in the elections of deputies and council members was approved, on Monday (9/8), by the House of Representatives Special Committee discussing electoral reform.
The PEC (Proposal to Amend the Constitution), which also provides for the possibility of coalitions returning, still needs to be voted on in the House plenary and passed through the Senate. Other “area” proposals have already been voted on and rejected by the council twice in recent years, in 2015 and 2017.
Political scientists and scholars of the electoral system are highly critical of the term “boycott,” the nickname given to a system that adopts majority votes for legislation, and classify it as the “worst possible model.”
But after all, how does the system work and why is it being criticized?
What is “neighborhood”?
In the “district” model, the most-voted Representatives in each state are elected to the House of Representatives. All votes that went to candidates who failed to win will be discarded.
In this system, each state would be considered a large electoral district (hence the model’s nickname) with a predetermined number of seats in the chamber. The state of São Paulo, for example, has the right to elect 70 deputies.
It is a model used in Afghanistan, Jordan and some island countries.
Despite the nickname, the “boycott” system is very different from the net boycott system adopted in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
Both are a majority voting system, i.e. the candidates with the most votes are elected. However, in a purely district system, the state is divided into small districts that elect only one candidate.
Each party can nominate only one candidate per district, and the winner in that district then takes a seat in the lower house of the legislature.
The “boycott” system that the proposal wants to implement in Brazil is most criticized by researchers and political scientists – for problems such as lost votes, weak parties, and difficulty coordinating campaigns and benefits for rich and famous candidates.
“It combines the worst flaws of all other systems with the only advantage being that they are easy to understand,” explains political scientist Lara Mesquita, professor at FGV and researcher at Cepesp (Centre for Studies in Public Policy and Economics).
One of the main criticisms of the “boycott” system and the majority vote of the legislature is the waste of an enormous number of votes. This is because all the votes of the candidates other than those who ended up being officially elected were ignored.
“Since only the most voted names enter, if a voter votes for an ordinary candidate and is not elected, the vote will be annulled,” says political expert Jairo Nicolau, an electoral systems researcher and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. (UFRJ).
“In the current electoral system, if I vote for a candidate who loses, my vote contributes to the election of another party candidate.”
“The district doesn’t have that. If you have a candidate who loses on the ballot – it could be from the right or the left, Marcelo Freixo or Eduardo Bolsonaro – all of those votes don’t go to his party mates, the increase also ends up being lost votes.”
And Lara Mesquita explains, in other countries that have adopted this system, that the parties have found it very difficult to coordinate election campaigns to elect their candidates because of the possibility of wasting votes.
“How will I coordinate voters to vote for the party? Everyone can end up voting for the same candidate. A party can have an expressive vote, for example, having 30% of the vote in a state, but only electing one candidate,” he explains.
Model studies indicate that coordination is very difficult in districts where 6 candidates are elected, says Mesquita. “Can you imagine then in the Brazilian provinces, where 15, 30, 70 will be elected?”
In the current voting model, the proportional system, the party uses the votes of candidates who have not been elected. Votes are lost only to parties that fail to elect any candidate.
But why is a majority vote a problem in a “constituency” if it is used in executive branch elections without any problems?
Jairo Nicolaou explains that there is a difference in the role of the executive branch and in the form of elections.
In the executive branch, the vote is the majority because the position is unique, i.e. we elect only one candidate. When there are many vacancies, such as in a legislative system, the majority system can be more problematic.
“In the area there are many vacancies, as in São Paulo, and everyone competes against everyone,” says Nicolau.
In addition, the legislature is designed to represent all sectors of society and in a “district”, this representation can be distorted – because many votes representing a sector can go to the same person and not be distributed with fellows having similar platforms.
Lara Mesquita explains: “The idea is that the legislature represents society in its diversity, and enables the divisions that exist in society to be reflected in the legislative system. The proportional system favors this representation.”
It favors already elected candidates and weakens parties
Moreover, with only the most voted candidates elected, those who are able to run more expensive campaigns or are already known to the public have an advantage.
In other words, “the region” favors already elected candidates, experts explain. This can slow down political renewal and also affect minority representation.
“What the (scientific) literature shows is that state holders are more likely to be reelected in majority systems,” explains Lara Mesquita.
Maskita argues that the “district” system does not solve any of the problems we face today in the electoral system.
“What are the main problems? We have a lot of medium or small parties, a lot of fragmentation, so it is very difficult to form a governing coalition. Most of the parties do not have cohesion, they do not have a clear and defined platform. The region does not attack. None of these problems,” he says. Mesquita.
He explains that, on the contrary, the regime tends to further weaken and fragment political parties. This is because there is a singular focus on the candidates, who are no longer dependent on the total number of votes a party receives to be elected.
“In the current system, almost all parliamentarians when elected benefit from the votes of the list as a whole. Today, if a candidate, once elected, does not follow the party’s platform, the party can punish him in the next election, says Mesquita: “He needs some kind of bonding with colleagues” .
How do we vote today?
Today, federal and state deputies are elected under a proportional open list system.
Although voters can initialize the number and the number of a particular candidate in the ballot box, when they vote for a deputy or a councilman, they are actually voting for the list of candidates for the political party they voted for, Lara Mesquita explains.
“And it says on that list that your preferred name is the name you voted for,” says Mesquita.
In other words, to be elected, a candidate depends on the votes obtained by the party or coalition as much as on the votes obtained.
The system works as follows: Parliament seats are distributed according to the party’s vote. The total number of votes divided by the number of parliamentary seats available to arrive at X number of votes for a seat – this number is called the electoral quotient.
The total number of votes a party received divided by the electoral quotient to determine the number of candidates that party elected. Thus, if the electoral coefficient is 30 thousand votes, the party which has obtained 100 thousand votes has the right to elect three deputies (100/30 = 3.33) from its list of candidates.
After that, the most-voted deputies will occupy these three party seats.
For Nicolau, the lack of adequate explanation and education about this system, which is more complex, is actually a major flaw that needs to be fixed. “But the fact that the topic is not well explained and that people find it difficult to understand does not detract from the advantages of the relative system,” the researcher defends.
“The proportional system is a direct link between society and parliament for all intents and purposes. There is no great political force that has emerged in Brazil and has not succeeded in spreading in parliament. The proportional system in parliament reflects all our virtues and all we have,” says Nicolau.
He cites as an example the volume that parties such as the PT and PSL have been able to reach – and says that this would not have happened in a majority voting system.
“Because of the proportional system, the right-wing phenomenon was quickly represented by the PSL, just as the left previously managed to grow with the Labor Party.”
Mesquita claims that no system is perfect, and like other models, the proportional system has both advantages and disadvantages. She says some of the shortcomings, such as excessive fragmentation, were considered in the 2017 electoral reform.
The researcher considers that making a new change even before the 2017 reform takes effect is a mistake.
“We did a really good revamp in 2017 and nothing should change until 2030, when they are integrated and we will really be able to understand what was done right and what went wrong and adopt improvements,” he says.
What do defenders of the region say?
Rep. Renata Abreu (Podemos-SP), rapporteur of the project that provides for the use of “area”, stated that the model is simpler and easier for residents to understand.
She also said the model would be a “transition” to a mixed district system, where voters vote for a candidate from their own constituency and for a closed party list.
Abreu also said that the criticism that the system favors already popular candidates also applies to the proportional system.
“The only system that favors parties is the closed list, where parties determine the order of candidates and people vote for parties,” she said in an interview with CNN Brasil.
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