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Political Institutions

Brazil's first Constitution under the Republic (1891) established a presidential system and three independent powers: Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary.

The Constitution 

After the monarchy was abolished, Brazil's first Constitution under the Republic (1891) established a presidential system and three independent powers: Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary. This structure was retained in Brazil's six subsequent republican constitutions, including the present Constitution, drafted by a specially empowered National Congress elected in 1984, and formally promulgated on October 5,1988. The 1988 Constitution incorporates a great many new concepts ranging from environmental protection to increased powers for the legislature in its relationship with the Executive. Since 1992 important amendments have been adopted mostly pertaining to economic issues.

Brazil is a federative republic composed of 26 States and one Federal District where Brasília, the capital of the country, is situated. Each State has its own government, with a structure that mirrors the federal level, enjoying all the powers (defined in its own Constitution) which are not specifically reserved for the federal government or assigned to the Municipal Councils. The head of the state executive is the Governor, elected by direct popular vote under the Federal Constitution. The one-chamber state legislature is a State Assembly. The state judiciary follows the federal pattern and has its jurisdiction defined so as to avoid any conflict or superimposition with the federal courts.

At the municipal level there are over 4,400 Municipal Councils that are autonomous in strictly local affairs. The Municipal Councils operate under the provisions of the Basic Law of Municipalities.

The Legislature

---The national legislature is the National Congress (Congresso National), composed of two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados) and the Federal Senate (Senado Federal).

The number of members in the Chamber of Deputies from each State and the Federal District is proportional to its population. Deputies are elected for four-year terms by direct secret ballot under the system (adopted for all elections for public office) of universal franchise.

The Senate is composed of three Senators from each state and the Federal District, elected for a term of eight years. Senatorial elections are staggered (one-third and then two-thirds) every four years, in elections held concomitantly with those for the Chamber of Deputies. A Deputy and a Senator can stand for re-election without restriction. In 1994 there were 81 Senators and 503 members of the Chamber of Deputies.


The Executive

The Executive, with its powers clearly defined in the Constitution, is headed by the President of the Republic. The President and the Vice President are elected for a four-year term. An amendment to the Constitution in 1997 permits the President and the Vice President to serve a second consecutive term.

The President appoints the Cabinet Ministers who are directly responsible to him and whom he may dismiss at any time. A Minister may be summoned to appear before the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, or any of its committees.


The Judiciary

Judicial powers are vested in the Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal),in the Superior Court of Justice(Superior Tribunal de Justiça), regional courts, and in specific courts for electoral, labor, military, and other matters. The justices and judges of all the courts, at both the federal and the state levels, are appointed for life.

The Federal Supreme Court is at the apex of the judicial system. It has its seat in the national capital, Brasília, but holds jurisdiction throughout the country. It is composed of eleven Justices, of proven legal and constitutional training and experience, appointed by the President of the Republic, with the prior approval of the Senate.


The Voting System

Voting is universal and compulsory for all literate citizens from 18 to 70 years of age. Voting is optional for citizens aged 16 and 17, for senior citizens above 70, and for illiterates of any age.

Candidates must belong to a political party. The registration of a political party is effected by the Higher Electoral Tribunal, following the fulfillment of certain minimum requirements established by legislation. In a presidential or a gubernatorial election a candidate must receive an absolute majority to win the election. If no candidate receives this mandate the two top vote-getters compete in a run-off election (second turn) held 20 days after the first election.