Why Presidentialism is Undesirable in a Newly Founded Democracy: Brazil's Struggle to Liberalize


Brazil's transformation from an authoritarian regime to a presidential democracy was a slow and
faltered attempt. From the early suggestions of democratic development, there were both
administrations that contributed to democratic growth, as well as administrations that opposed this
liberalization. This led to an instability in the Brazilian form of democratic government, their
economy, and their political parties. The people's reactions to these instabilities confirm the fact that
the Brazilian democratic regime was not working effectively. Even though Brazil was governed
under a democratic system because the president was chosen by the people, the president rarely
acted in a democratic manner.

The first signs of a modern democratic government in Brazil appeared in 1945 when the military
deposed President Get?lio Vargas. Vargas had created a "semi-corporatist authoritarian regime (the
Estado N?vo) based largely on the military."1 Once Vargas had been removed from power, Brazil
instituted a competitive multi-party system. Multi-party systems are not a requirement for
democracy, "but certainly the history of democratization has been associated with the development
of parties and their legitimation."2

This step towards a true democratic government was negated in 1964 when the military forced a
reversion to an authoritarian form of rule. The president remained the top government official, but he
was merely a puppet to the military. The Army officer corps choose a general who the Congress
would elect for president for a set term.3

Castelo Branco managed to hold the hardliners? demands at bay with the enactment of concessions.
To make his successor's transition to office easier, Castelo Branco and his advisers reformed the
constitution so that the next president could assume power in a "normal" constitutional regime.5

General Artur da Costa e Silva took over as President in 1967. He experienced an average
economic growth of eleven percent per year, which lasted from 1968 until 1974. However, the
political atmosphere was not fairing as well as the economy. There were many student
demonstrations and two major industrial strikes. To rectify this situation, the government reacted
with highly repressive police action. Costa e Silva then implemented the Fifth Institutional
Amendment. This amendment "authorized the suspension of normal civil rights, such as habeas
corpus, justifying the measure by the need to protect national security."6 What made this
amendment even more undemocratic is that it had no expiration date; the effect of this would have
long term consequences. Costa e Silva was able to take this action because "in presidential systems,
the [elected president] winner takes all: He or she can form a government without including any
losers in the coalition."7 Because he did not have any of his opposition in the government to contend
with, it made it possible for Costa e Silva to pass this amendment.

Shortly after instituting the Fifth Institutional Amendment, Costa e Silva died from a stroke. After
much debate among the Army officer corps, it is decided that General Em?lio Garrastaz? M?dici
would be the next president. He ruled the most authoritarian regime since 1964. "Although elections
were held and Congress continued to function (with a suspension in 1969-71, broken only to ratify
M?dici1s succession in early 1970), Brazil was in the grip of the security forces, which were locked
in battle with several small guerrilla movements."8 Still, even after the guerrilla forces were
suppressed, arbitrary procedures and dictatorial practices continued. This is not a unique
occurrence in Latin American states. Linz reveals that "...in many [Latin American] countries the
periods of democratic rather than authoritarian presidentialism have been short. Most presidents
have been de facto governors deriving power from a coup rather than an election, or a dubious
election."9 Brazilian presidents were chosen in much the same way: a dubious election where the
Army officer corps appoint a general who will become the next president. From there, the
legislature, who are comprised of military backers, elect the general. However, M?dici1s
administration was considered to be somewhat legitimate by the middle and upper class because of
Brazil's continued economic growth and reign of "law and order."10

After M?dici1s term was up, General Ernest Geisel was elected president. One of his Geisel's main
concerns was the unequal income distribution; but this problem was compounded by the rapidly
growing external debt. Geisel decided to reform the welfare programs that the former governments
had left in disrepair. To minimize the negative effects of the new welfare programs, continued high
economic growth was imperative. However, continued growth was not quite as easy as it had been
in the past. In 1973, the OPEC oil price shock took its toll on Brazil, since Brazil imported nearly
80% of its oil. To cut