Impeachment Vote Reveals Five Things You Didn’t Know About Brazil’s Congress

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For the original article by Renata Mendonça in Portuguese published by BBC Brasil click here.

Sunday April 17’s voting process in Brazil’s Congress for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff had all Brazilians’ eyes glued to their TVs, not only for the end result but for the speeches given during the voting process.

Amongst commentary on social media about the vote, the word “disgrace” was one of the most commonly mentioned–used more than 270,000 times to describe what was happening.

Sunday afternoon was the time to find out what 511 of 513 parliamentarians felt (two abstained from voting) and it revealed a few things about them that no one really knew.

BBC Brasil has put together a list of the facts:

1. Only a small group of the deputies were elected by direct vote

According to statistics from the Superior Electoral Tribunal, the Congress elected in 2014 has only 73 representatives who were elected by direct vote from the electorate. The other 440 won their parliamentary seats through two key elements in the Brazilian political system: the electoral quotient and the party quotient.

They work as follows: election for any candidate for federal or state representative depends not only on the votes received from the electorate but those received from their party or coalition.

Therefore, all valid votes in the election (i.e. the total number of votes for all candidates, not including those blank or void) are divided between the total number of seats in each parliamentary body (513 in the case of Congress). This division forms the electoral quotient or share. In order to elect members, the party or coalition vote must achieve at least this proportion.*

Electoral share and party share mean that popular candidates can bring less voted for candidates into the cabinet.

Only after this are the number of seats that each party/coalition will hold determined. And this depends on another element: the party quotient.

The party quotient is calculated by dividing the number of votes received by each party (not candidate) depending on their electoral rate. Whichever party’s candidates together combine to form the majority will fill the most seats.

“The tallied votes are for each party or coalition and, only in a second stage, for each candidate. This is the big difference. In other words, to know which politicians will make up the Congress, you have to first identify the victorious political parties and only then, within each coalition of parties that gets a minimum number of votes, can you identify those that were most voted for. Then the elected can be ascertained. This is also one of the reasons behind setting the mandate to the party and not to the politicians,” explains the TSE.

However, the system has discrepancies: a candidate with a significant share of the vote can end up not being elected if their party does not receive enough share of the vote. And a candidate who didn’t receive many votes can also end up being elected if their party has a vote winner, so a well voted-for candidate can end up increasing the seat ratio for their party.

This was the case with Celso Russomanno from the São Paulo branch of the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB-SP) who holds the record for the most votes in the history of Congress. With 1.5 million votes, he elected four other candidates from his party (Sérgio Reis, who received 45,330 votes; Beto Mansur with 31,305; Marcelo Squasoni with 30,315, and Fausto Pinato with 22,097 votes).

2) Of the 513 congressmen, 273 are cited as having cases in the Justice System or in Audit Tribunals

According to the Excellencies Project, carried out by the NGO Transparency Brazil, 273 of the 513 members of the current Congress are answering to some form of judicial process. They are cited for cases either in the courts of Justice or Audit.

They represent 53% of Congress. The cases vary from electoral crimes, to corruption, and even mismanagement of public money.

Members of congress celebrate the vote for impeachment. Image by Ag. Brasil

On the list of party members being investigated, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) leads with 53 of its (total of 85) congressmen responding to legal cases followed by the Workers Party (PT) which has 44 of its 73 congressmen; Progressive Party (PP) with 40 out of 50; and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 37 out of 62.

3. Brazil’s Congress represents just a small part of society, and there are very few minorities

Another fact that called the attention of those who watched the vote is that Congress is largely populated by white men; very few seats are held by black people, women, or those from indigenous backgrounds.

Brazil's congress

A survey published on the official congressional website after the 2014 elections showed that 80% of the elected congressmen were white men; a total of 15.8% identified as brown and 4.1% as black; women made up 10% of Congress; currently no one self-identifying as indigenous occupies a seat in Congress.

These numbers contrast with the reality of Brazilian society: according to the most recent data from IBGE, 54% of the Brazilian population are black and 51% are women.

4) The word “disgrace” united the country during the vote

Faced with an intense political polarization within society, as much among the defenders of the impeachment as among those against it, many people showed their outrage at the speeches given by the politicians during the vote.

The word “disgrace” was mentioned more than 270,000 times on Twitter on Sunday according to an observation carried out by BBC Brasil using the Sysomos tool. The majority of tweets that the word appeared in were about the vote.

“I guess losing 7-1 [to Germany in the 2014 World Cup] will no longer be the biggest disgrace Brazil has suffered,” commented one Twitter user. “Guys, do you feel you’re being represented? Because the only thing representing me is disgrace,” said another.

“One thing I know: regardless of being for or against, if the common feeling of disgrace can’t unite us, nothing will,” said a third.

5. Brazil “stopped” and got to know its representatives with record TV audiences registered

With the exception of SBT, all the main free TV channels were transmitting live coverage of the impeachment vote and audience data showed that most of the country was tuned in to watch each vote–an audience which politicians are not used to having.

Millions of Brazilians stopped to watch the vote either at home or on the streets. Image by BBC Brasil
The Globo network’s audience peaked at 37 points which represents around 7 million households watching the vote. The network transmitted close to 500 minutes without any interruption to the live coverage in Congress, a record time period–even longer than during the coverage of the events of 9/11 in 2001.

All together, free channels gained more than 50 audience points on Sunday during the vote: Globo held 37, Record had 8, Band had 4, Rede TV 2, and 0.8 on TV Brasil. These data are preliminary and may be altered once Ibope releases their official figures.


*How Brazil elects its Congress

1. The choice of candidate

When Brazilians choose a candidate, their vote first goes to the party or coalition (group of parties forming a governing pact) of the candidate. Pay attention to coalitions; they tend to be different in each candidacy (parties who align themselves for the presidency can be separate for state elections and vice-versa).

2. The destination of the vote

Before going to the candidate, the vote is counted for the party. To participate in the distribution of State Legislative Assembly Seats or in Congress, the party and its coalition needs to achieve an electoral quotient.

3. Electoral Quotient (QE)

The electoral quotient represents how many votes each party or coalition needs to hold to obtain a seat. It is proportionately calculated by dividing the number of eligible votes cast in the election (all, except any blank or void) by the total number of seats in the Congress or Assembly.

4. Party Quotient

After the vote count, the party quotient of the vote will determine how many seats each party or coalition will hold in the Congress or Assembly. It is calculated by dividing the number of votes the party and all of its candidates have by the electoral quotient.

5. The dance of the seats

The positions are filled by the most voted for candidates in the party/coalition in descending order until all the seats they hold are filled. What can happen:

– If the party does not receive the necessary number of votes to guarantee a seat (electoral quotient), their candidate may not be elected, even if they received more votes than others.

– Because of the way the calculations work, a candidate that receives a large number of votes can end up pulling other less voted-for candidates into seats alongside them.