Brazil Government and Politics

State and politics

Brazil Country Flag

After the 21-year military rule (1964–85), Brazil has been gradually democratized and the 1988 Constitution defines the country as a constitutional democracy with presidential rule with full guarantees of civil liberties and rights.


Brazil is a federal state consisting of 26 states and a special federal district for the capital, Brazil. The states have a high degree of independence and are basically copies of the federal level with their own constitutions, courts and significant powers in various respects.

Political power is distributed among the executive, legislative and judicial institutions. The executive is represented by the president, who is both head of state and government and appoints the ministers in the government. The president is elected for a four-year term in general elections and may be re-elected once. To be elected requires an absolute majority (over half the votes), and the election may therefore need to be made in two rounds.

The legislative power is the National Congress, which consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies adopts laws and approves the government’s budget. The Senate is mandated to put the president and ministers before the national court and approves appointments of judges and ambassadors, among others.

The Senate has 81 members, with each state as well as the federal district electing three representatives each. They are elected for a term of eight years and are renewed partially every four years. The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members; the number of members from the different states is based on population. The members are appointed for a period of four years. Elections to the National Congress are held at the same time as the presidential election. All citizens over the age of 16 have the right to vote.

The highest judicial power is the federal Supreme Court. The Court consists of eleven members appointed by the President for life with the Senate’s approval.

The Brazilian military has retained a strong position even after the country’s democratization, and the civilian governments have followed the strategic goals of the generals to make Brazil one of the world’s great powers. Their influence has been guaranteed, among other things, by the fact that the head of the military must always sit in the government. When then-President Lula da Silva in 2010 proposed the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations from 1946 to 1988, including the period of military rule 1964-85, the military leaders protested. During this time, about 500 oppositionists are estimated to have been murdered and thousands tortured. According to a 1979 amnesty law, neither military nor former guerrillas can be prosecuted for torture and other acts of violence during the dictatorship.


The regional differences in Brazil are huge, which makes the country difficult to control. By tradition, regional economic interests and the military have been stronger than the political parties and it is common for politicians to jump between parties or form new party groups. To create strong governments, agreements with up to ten different parties are often required.

Until 1979, only two parties existed, the government party and the tolerated opposition party. After the fall of the military dictatorship, a large number of parties were created, the most important today being the Labor Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, PMDB), Brazilian Social Democratic Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSD), The Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro, PSB), the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrático, PSD), Republican Party (Partido da República, PR) and the Progressive Party (Partido Progressista, PP).

The labor party grew out of the trade union movement at the car companies in São Paulo and the ties to the union are still strong. The party was founded in 1980 and was long led by former union leader Lula da Silva, president from 2002-10. The party originally advocated a socialist system but during da Silva’s time as president, the radical message was faded and the party has moved toward the political center.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) was born out of opposition to the military regime and is a middle party. Defenders from PMDB formed the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) in 1988, which ruled the country in 1995–02.


In 2002, Lula da Silva ran for president for the fourth time. For every electoral movement, he became more and more famous in the country as his message moved towards the center. The former metal worker won when he got 61 percent of the vote in the second round. The Labor Party, which Lula represents, became the largest in the Chamber of Deputies, and Lula was able to form an unstable coalition with several central and left parties.

Despite corruption scandals that led to prosecution of several congressmen and ministers, Lula da Silva was re-elected in 2006 by far to a second term in office. The popularity of the program was, among other things, social action programs, reduced poverty, strong economic growth and the fact that Brazil under Lula’s leadership became a force to be expected internationally.

Lula da Silva was not allowed to stand for re-election in 2010 and then presented his Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff as the party’s candidate. She was opposed by, among others, José Serra (born 1942) of the PSDB and Marina Silva of the Green Party, who in 2008 left his post as Minister of the Environment in protest of the government’s environmental policy. Despite a new corruption scandal affecting the Labor Party during the electoral movement, Rouseff managed to defeat Serra in the second round of elections; On January 1, 2011, she took office as the country’s first female president.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections, the Labor Party withdrew its position from the PMDB as the largest party of the Chamber of Deputies; in all, the eleven parties in the government coalition received a clear majority in both chambers.

During Rousseff’s first term in office, the rate of economic growth dropped significantly, but thanks to continued social efforts and attempts to cope with corruption, she remained popular enough to be re-elected in 2014. However, Rousseff had become unpopular among large parts of the political elite. Rousseff and her coalition government were also burdened by the large corruption legacy surrounding the state-owned oil company Petrobras and the conglomerate Odebrecht Group, which began to emerge in 2014.

In late 2015, the opposition accused Rousseff of using state bank revenue to cover budget deficits, which violates the country’s budget rules, and a court ruled that the president had violated his powers. Rousseff left her post in 2016 after a majority of the members of the National Congress had voted to initiate a national court process against her.

Rousseff was succeeded by PMDM’s leading politician, Vice President Michel Temer, even though he was also accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Ahead of the 2018 presidential election, the Labor Party launched Lula da Silva as its candidate, but because he was sentenced to prison for corruption, he was not allowed to stand. The party’s candidate instead became Fernando Haddad (born 1963), whose most serious opponent was Jair Bolsonaro (born 1955), who represents the Conservative Social Liberal Party (Partido Social Liberal, PSL). Former officer Bolsonaro has made himself known to pay tribute to the military dictatorship, and his promises of hard-fought violence and crime attracted many voters. In the first round he got 46 percent of the vote against 29 percent for Haddad; in the second, Bolsonaro won with 55 percent of the vote.


Each state has its own judicial organization. the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Supreme Court, federal regional courts, labor courts and military courts. The substantive law is based on the Portuguese law inspired by Roman and French law as well as on national law. The most important codifications are the Civil Code, the Commercial Code, the Criminal Code, the Civil Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Act. The death penalty was abolished in 1979 for crimes committed during peacetime but can still be punished under war or warlike conditions. The last execution took place in 1855.

Human Rights

Brazil’s more than twenty years of military dictatorship ceased in 1985 (see History) and the country has since taken several steps towards eradicating poverty in the country and expanding civil and political rights. Progress has been made in the social and economic spheres and millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. However, widespread problems with corruption, impunity and structural discrimination remain.

In many cases, women’s rights are in practice neglected in comparison with men, and despite efforts to curb gender-related violence and human trafficking, these are still serious problems.

Gang violence is widespread in the larger cities, as is corruption in the police system. Private militias, which often consist of free police officers, threaten and harass the civilian population to the same extent as the criminal gangs. The violence also affects the freedom of the press when investigative journalists focusing on corruption, organized crime and police violence are subjected to harassment, threats and outright murder. Between 2010 and 2014, Brazil fell 53 places in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. A corrupt judicial system and an ineffective police force combined with widespread impunity contribute to the deterioration. In 2015, investment has improved slightly and Brazil is ranked 99 out of 180 countries surveyed.

Several of Brazil’s prisons have problems with violence and overcrowding. The many times inhabited prison conditions facilitate the spread of diseases, and despite prohibitions in the constitution, torture occurs in both detention and police stations.

The children in Brazil have a vulnerable position, both inside and outside the home. Children are particularly vulnerable in cities where violence and crime are widespread, and in tourist resorts where the sexual exploitation of children is extensive.

Heads of State

1822-31 Pedro I
1831-89 Pedro II
1890-91 Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca
1891-94 Floriano Peixoto
1894-98 Prudente de Morais Barros
1898-1902 Manuel Ferraz de Campos Sales
1902-06 Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves
1906-09 Affonso Augusto Moreira Pena
1909-10 Nilo Peçanha
1910-14 Hermes da Fonseca
1914-18 Wenceslau Braz Pereira Gomes
1918-19 Delfim Moreira
1919-22 Epitácio de Silva Pessòa
1922-26 Artur da Silva Bernardes
1926-30 Washington Luís Pereira de Sousa
1930-45 Getúlio Vargas
1945-46 José Linhares
1946-51 Eurico Gaspar Dutra
1951-54 Getúlio Vargas
1954-55 João Café Filho
1955 Carlos Coimbra da Luz
1955-56 Nereu de Oliviera Ramos
1956-61 Juscelino Kubitschek
1961 Jânio Quadros
1961-64 João Goulart
1964-67 Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco
1967-69 Arturo da Costa e Silva
1969-74 Emílio Garrastazú Médici
1974-79 Ernesto Geisel
1979-85 João Baptista Figueiredo
1985 Tancredo Neves
1985-90 José Sarney
1990-92 Fernando Collor de Mello
1992-94 Itamar Franco
1995-2002 Fernando Henrique Cardoso
2003-10 Lula da Silva
2011-16 Dilma Rousseff
2016-19 Michel Temer
2019- Jair Bolsonaro

Brazil Head of Government

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