Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

POLITICS-BRAZIL: Movement for Parliamentary System Picks Up Steam

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 27 1999 (IPS) - The movement for a parliamentary system of government has been picking up steam in Brazil in recent months, as Congress has gained in strength and the popularity of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has plummeted.

With no tradition of parliamentary government in Brazil – or in the rest of Latin America for that matter – a proposal for changing the system was rejected in an April 1993 plebiscite, in which a large majority of voters opted to keep the presidential system of government.

But a number of parliamentarians have brought the issue up again, at the end of a year in which Congress has stood out for the hard-hitting results of several parliamentary investigatory commissions, and the credibility of the Cardoso government has plunged.

A parliamentary investigatory commission on drug trafficking that revealed the national and international connections of organised crime throughout the country and led several lawmakers to prison was the key factor in the rebound of Congress’s prestige.

It was an earlier parliamentary investigatory commission that led to the 1992 fall of former president Fernando Collor de Mello by unveiling a network of corruption in the government.

Since then, Congress has purged a number of its members found to be involved in a range of illegal activities. And this year, two other commissions exposed irregularities in the justice and financial systems, putting the government on the defensive on several occasions.

In addition to the successful work of its investigatory commissions, Congress was highly productive this year, passing more than 400 bills. On the initiative of parliament, proposed reforms of the tax system were drawn up, after five years of delaying tactics by the executive branch, which is now doing its best to torpedo the project.

Cardoso, meanwhile, has seen his popularity nosedive over the past year. In the latest opinion poll, 59 percent of respondents criticised his administration, compared to a mere 12 percent who described it as “good”.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Michel Temer, said he would throw his efforts behind a constitutional amendment to set up a parliamentary government, once the crucial amendments currently being debated – on taxes and the judiciary – were voted on in mid-2000.

A proposal for the establishment of a parliamentary system has already been sent to a special Chamber of Deputies commission, a majority of whose members support the new form of government, according to a straw poll conducted by Deputy Paulo Kobayashi.

The deputies heading the movement for a parliamentary government believe the change should be made without consulting voters, on the argument that the public lacks sufficient knowledge to express an opinion on the matter.

Because the initiative is not likely to gain significant popular support, the lawmakers want a parliamentary government to be installed for at least four years before a plebiscite is held for voters to approve or reject the system.

The public would then be “in a position to compare the two systems,” said Deputy Marcio Fortes, secretary-general of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).

One of the basic demands of the PSDB – of which Cardoso was a co-founder in 1988 – is the installation of a parliamentary system of government. The president’s interest in that aim waned, however, after he took office at the start of his first term, in 1995.

Leftist opposition parties, meanwhile, argue that approval of the constitutional amendment for the installation of a parliamentary system without a referendum or plebiscite would amount to a “coup.”

Deputy José Genoino, the Workers Party leader in the lower house of Congress, accused the government of seeking a mechanism to remain in power after the elections of 2002, with Cardoso as president or prime minister. (A third consecutive term is presently prohibited). Genoino, however, is personally in favour of a parliamentary system.

The aim is to keep the opposition from winning the presidency in 2002, according to the governor of the state of Minas Gerais, former president Itamar Franco, who is currently opposed to the Cardoso administration, even though he is a member of the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, which forms part of the ruling coalition.

Cardoso denies that he wants to remain in power, while standing firm on his conviction regarding the advantages of a parliamentary system.

In an interview granted to the daily ‘Folha de Sao Paulo’ he announced that after his second term ends, in 2003, he would leave politics and return to academia.

Both Congress and the government are divided over the issue. For example, most of the members of the main party in the governing coalition, the Liberal Front, are opposed to the idea.

The secretary-general of the presidency, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, the government’s political coordinator, supports the new attempt to modify the system of government, but stresses the need to “listen to the people first.”

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