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Brazil Table of Contents

Brazil

Structure of Government

Brazil is a presidential and federative republic with considerable decentralized federalism. It is composed of twenty-six states and the Federal District (Brasília). In 1996 the states were subdivided into 5,581 municipalities (see fig. 1). The system is built on a directly elected president with a national constituency and a Congress elected by very parochial regional interests. Although the 1988 constitution reestablished many of the prerogatives of the bicameral Congress, the president retains considerable "imperial" powers. The federal judiciary enjoys considerable independence and autonomy. Under a system of checks and balances similar to the United States system, the three branches of government operate in harmony and with mutual respect. However, on rare occasions, one of the branches may challenge or reject the interference of the others.

Since the end of military rule in 1985, unionization, collective bargaining, and frequent strikes have become commonplace among federal employees in all three branches. The 1988 constitution grants job stability to all federal employees with more than five years of service, including those who had been hired without public examination. All new hiring must be by civil service examinations, and job stability comes after two years of probation. Mandatory retirement for all public servants, except for those elected to political office, is at age seventy.

In January 1995, the government employed (excluding state enterprises) 650,000 civilian (executive, 586,000; judicial 50,000; and legislative, 14,000) and 310,000 military personnel, totaling 960,000. A total of 723,000 were retired. State enterprises counted another 700,000 active employees.

The Executive

Executive-branch reorganizations are frequent in Brazil, as each president seeks to impose his personal style and to incorporate political bargains struck. President Sarney expanded the cabinet to a record twenty-seven ministries. His successor, President Collor, embarked on a massive reorganization, reducing the number of ministries to twelve, abolishing many agencies, and firing some 80,000 federal employees. In a reorganization of his cabinet in early 1992, Collor was forced to dismember several ministries to create new positions in an effort to enhance political support. President Franco again expanded the cabinet to twenty-seven positions in October 1992.

In January 1995, President Cardoso installed a cabinet with twenty-two ministers and the ministerial-rank chief of the Civil Household of the Presidency and implemented several important changes (see fig. 12). The Cardoso government charged the new head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with creating a ministry of defense by the end of 1995 (a target that was not met). It also granted three ministerial positions--Planning, Civil Household, and Finance--superior status in terms of coordinating and monitoring the other nineteen. In addition, the government also created a Political Council (Conselho Político) to coordinate major political strategy and policy decisions. The council was composed of the presidents of the parties supporting the government.

Since João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (president, 1979-85), most presidents have attempted to reduce and streamline the executive branch. President Sarney reorganized the Administrative Department of Public Service (Departamento Administrativo do Serviço Público--DASP), created in the 1930s, into the Federal Administration Secretariat (Secretaria de Administração Federal--SAF), which Presidents Collor and Franco revamped. By 1994 the SAF had achieved moderate success in consolidating the number of diverse public-service career structures and salary differentials. Congress passed a new executive-branch civil service law, the Single Judicial Regime (Regime Jurídico Único--RJU), in December 1990. In addition to the large number of state enterprises under government control, the executive branch also includes many autonomous agencies and financial institutions, such as the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil) and the Federal Savings Bank (Caixa Econômico Federal).

A president must be a native Brazilian over age thirty-five. From 1945 to 1979, presidents had five-year terms. Following President Figueiredo's six-year term, the 1988 constitution again set the term at five years, but the 1994 constitutional revision reduced the mandate to four years. Although all of Brazil's constitutions since 1891 have prohibited immediate reelection of presidents, governors, and mayors, in June 1997 Congress approved an amendment allowing reelection. Thus, President Cardoso and the twenty-seven governors may stand for reelection in 1998, and the mayors elected in 1996 may be reelected in 2000.

The Brazilian president has the power to appoint some 48,000 confidence positions, of which only ambassadors, higher-court judges, the solicitor general, and Central Bank directors must have Senate approval. The president may also use the line-item veto, impound appropriated funds, issue decrees and provisional measures, initiate legislation, and enact laws.

Until 1964 the president and vice president were elected on separate tickets, which produced incompatible duos in 1950 and 1960. When Vargas committed suicide in 1954 and Jânio Quadros (president, January-August 1961) resigned in August 1961, the actions of their vice presidents produced severe institutional crises, leading to their respective ousters by military intervention. Since 1964 presidents and vice presidents have been elected on a single ticket, indirectly until 1989 and by direct popular vote in 1989 and 1994; a second round takes place if a majority is needed.

The return to civilian rule in 1985 occasioned important roles for vice presidents. President-elect Tancredo de Almeida Neves died before taking office, and his vice president, José Sarney, was allowed to complete his term. After President Collor was impeached in 1992, his vice president, Itamar Franco, completed his mandate. In the event that the president and vice president become incapacitated, the line of succession falls sequentially to the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the Senate, and the president of the Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal--STF). If less than half of the mandate has been completed, a supplementary election must be called within ninety days. If more than half the mandate has been completed, the Congress elects a new president and vice president within thirty days.

Data as of April 1997


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