Brazil Historical Origins and Evolution
Historical Origins and Evolution
Shortly after Brazil's independence, the first political groups
emerged with either pro-Brazilian or pro-Portuguese
factions. During the second empire period (1831-89), the Conservative
and Liberal parties alternated in power, and an embryonic Republican
Party appeared in 1870. During the Old
Republic (1889-1930), sections of the Republican Party in the
larger states held political power. During the brief opening of
representative politics between 1934 and 1937, attempts were made
to organize national parties.
After 1945, when parties and elections again were permitted, local
factions in the interior that had been allied with the Vargas
government since 1930 organized the Social Democratic Party
(Partido Social Democrático--PSD); the pro-Vargas groups
in urban areas organized the PTB (Brazilian Labor Party); and all
those opposed to Vargas initially formed the UDN (National Democratic
Union). The PSD elected the president and an absolute majority to
the 1946 Constituent Assembly. The Brazilian Communist Party (Partido
Comunista Brasileiro--PCB), led by Luis Carlos Prestes, operated
freely from 1945 through 1947, but the STF (Federal Supreme Court)
canceled its registry in early 1948.
By 1960 Congress had thirteen parties. Confronted with adverse
results in the direct gubernatorial elections of October 1965, President
Castelo Branco (1964-67) decreed the end of this multiparty system
and imposed a two-party system. His objective was to organize a
strong majority support party and a loyal opposition. Thus, the
National Renewal Alliance (Aliança Renovadora Nacional--Arena)
and the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement) were born.
About 90 percent of the UDN, 50 percent of the PSD, and 15 percent
of the PTB joined Arena. Although it held an absolute majority in
Congress until its demise in 1979, Arena was plagued with regional
and former party factionalism. The MDB suffered from ideological
factionalism regarding the military government; the factions divided
among the authentics (those most strongly opposed to the military
government), the neo-authentics, and the moderates.
As a result of the voting trends of the 1974, 1976, and 1978 elections,
which channeled protest votes to the MDB, General Golbery do Couto
e Silva, the architect of much of the regime's political evolution
from 1964 until his retirement in August 1981, called for a party
realignment to achieve broader political maneuvering space for the
government. A survey conducted among members of Congress in March
1979 showed that nearly three-fourths of Arena and two-thirds of
the MDB desired a multiparty system. In December 1979, Congress
approved government-sponsored legislation abolishing Arena and the
MDB and permitting moderate party pluralism.
Initially, the realignment strategy was successful. The MDB became
the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) but with half its
1979 size. Arena became the PDS (Democratic Social Party), and retained
its majority position. MDB moderates and Arena liberals organized
the government auxiliary Popular Party (Partido Popular--PP) led
by Senator Tancredo Neves and Deputy Magalhães Pinto. Former
deputy Ivette Vargas and former governor Leonel Brizola resurrected
the PTB; and the new, more militant labor unions organized the Workers'
In May 1980, this pluralism became less moderate when, in a highly
political decision, the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) decided to
give the PTB label to Ivette Vargas instead of Brizola, who had
much broader organizational support within the party. Undaunted,
Brizola immediately organized the PDT (Democratic Labor Party) and,
in 1982, was elected governor of Rio de Janeiro, with twenty-three
deputies versus Ivette Vargas's thirteen (see table 19, Appendix).
Because of the harsh 1982 election rules imposed by the Figueiredo
government, the Popular Party decided to dissolve itself and reincorporate
with the PMDB, which greatly strengthened the latter in many states,
especially in Minas Gerais and Paraná.
In 1985 Congress passed legislation easing the requirements for
organizing new parties; thus, the ANC (National Constituent Assembly)
seated eleven parties in 1987, nineteen in 1991, and eighteen in
1995. With the exception of the Workers' Party, traditionally all
Brazilian political parties have been organized from the top down,
with a compact group of professional politicians making major decisions.
The party system suffered considerable fragmentation during the
late 1980s and early 1990s, especially because of an exodus from
the largest parties--PMDB and PFL (Liberal Front Party)--after 1988,
similar to the factionalization in the 1950s and early 1960s. In
1987 the five largest parties accounted for 92.8 percent of the
Chamber of Deputies. In 1989 this figure fell to 70.1 percent, and
in 1992 it fell further to 61.4 percent. However, after the 1994
elections a "reconcentration" occurred, and by 1997 the
five largest parties accounted for 83.6 percent.
In addition to strong internal cleavages, parties differ regionally.
The Popular Party was almost totally concentrated in Minas
Rio de Janeiro. Initially, Brizola's PDT was concentrated in
Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul--the two states that had elected
him in the 1947-64 period--but later expanded to more states and
elected three governors in 1990 (see table 20, Appendix). The Workers'
Party remains concentrated in São Paulo but has expanded
to other states in the South
The PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) is highly concentrated
in Ceará and São
Paulo. The PFL has always been concentrated in the Northeast.
In Rio Grande do Sul, the PFL and the PSDB have very limited penetration
Major Parties in Congress
In 1995 eight political parties, constituting 89.7 percent of the
total membership of the Chamber of Deputies, were considered major
parties. Each held more than 5 percent of the Chamber. In 1997 the
seven significant parties totaled 92.6 percent.
Data as of April 1997