By Hane Crevelari
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Sept. 30, 2022: While most Americans are paying attention to the November midterms, a country in our geographic backyard –Brazil – enters its own election season. Like recent presidential election cycles in the United States, Brazilians are also stuck trying to choose a presidential candidate that is the lesser of two evils. The election is set for Sunday, Oct. 2nd.
Lesser evil number one is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a founding member of the left-wing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), whose past corruption scandals notwithstanding, is ahead in the polls. Lesser evil number two is Jair Bolsonaro, the current right-wing president who was crucified for his COVID-19 response (or lack thereof) and has regularly made attacks on democratic values and institutions.
Regardless of the election results, the executive branch in Brazil will likely be led by an administration that supports inefficient policies full of good intentions, whether that is policy like Lula’s fiscally irresponsible proposal to eliminate government spending limits or Bolsonaro’s cronyist proposal to protect the agricultural and mining industries. The sad reality is that little difference exists between the two populist presidential candidates, who are essentially two sides of the same collectivist coin.
So, with little hope for improvement in presidential leadership, where can Brazilians turn to secure change in the direction of a more open economy and reduced bureaucratic state? They are left with two options as last resorts: The judiciary and legislative branches.
Similar to the U.S., Brazil’s political system consists of an executive, legislative, and judiciary branch. Power, however, is divided differently than in America, being mostly concentrated on the federal level instead of distributed within state governments. Therefore, the further away you get from the federal government, the less power an individual has over the political process.
As it relates to the judiciary, or Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), this branch of government is largely out of touch with people’s needs and the country’s limited resources and cannot be easily changed. Composed of 11 ministers, of which seven were appointed by former PT presidents, the STF is in charge of ensuring compliance with one of the largest constitutions in the world. The 250-articles-long 1988 Constitution, makes the STF responsible for a judicial review of a vast array of topics, thus granting ministers influence over everything from public healthcare expenditure on geriatric diapers to prison sentences for those who speak out against them.
In 2020 alone, STF issued decisions on 99,000 court cases, compared to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 63 decisions over the 2019-2020 term. During Bolsonaro’s presidency especially, the STF has been heavily criticized for a wide range of power-grab actions, which have undermined people’s faith in the institution.
Given STF’s decision-making power, the best hope for progress in Brazil rests in the wise selection of Federal Senators and Deputies, who could prove to be a critical check on the collectivist ambitions of a Lula or a Bolsonaro administration.
The Congresso Nacional is Brazil’s federal legislature. It is a bicameral assembly composed of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with 513 and 81 members respectively. Unlike the other two branches, the legislature is the governmental power that most closely represents members of Brazilian society. This is especially important because legislators hold substantial bargaining power vis-à-vis the president.
While the new president may propose new bills, those bills cannot become law until they pass with majority support in the legislature. Additionally, legislators retain oversight authority over the executive branch’s financial, budgetary, accounting, operational, and patrimonial activities, allowing for even stronger checks and balances when exercised effectively.
The 2022 elections for both Brazil and America represent an important choice–a crossroads for each countries’ respective citizens, if there is hope for pushing back on the collectivist ideas that are incompatible with individual rights, open markets, a smaller administrative state, and the enduring respect for democratic institutions.
Here’s to citizens from my home country of Brazil and my adopted country of the United States choosing wisely.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Hane Crevelari serves as Associate Director of Institute Relations and Regional Centers at Atlas Network.