Brazil country overview

Brazil Government

Brazil information index

Brazil Government

Constitutional framework

The Federative Republic of Brazil is composed of 26 states along with the Federal District, which encompasses the nation’s capital, Brasília. The country has practiced universal suffrage since 1934. In 1988, Brazil enacted its eighth constitution since achieving independence in 1822. This constitution marked a significant departure from the vestiges of the military dictatorship that ruled from 1964 to 1985. It established a comprehensive bill of civil rights and delineated the powers and responsibilities of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The new legal framework limited the president’s authority to issue decrees, abolished state censorship of cultural works, explicitly outlawed torture, forbade the extradition of individuals for political offenses, lowered the voting age to 16, and granted the federal government the power to intervene in state and municipal matters. Although the constitution has undergone several amendments since its original ratification, some of these modifications have been temporary, with clear expiration periods set forth.

The legislature of Brazil

The legislative authority within the nation is vested in the bicameral National Congress, which is composed of two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate. The National Congress convenes annually for two legislative sessions, each lasting four and a half months. The Constitution empowers the Congress to legislate on matters pertinent to the federal government, with a particular emphasis on fiscal policy and the administration of the Union. Additionally, Congress is responsible for ratifying international agreements negotiated by the executive branch, granting the President the authorization to declare war, and determining the circumstances under which federal intervention in state affairs may occur. Should the President reject a bill or any of its sections, Congress is afforded a 30-day period to overturn the veto by securing an absolute majority in the vote.

The Chamber of Deputies is composed of state representatives who are elected to four-year terms through a process of direct universal suffrage. The allocation of deputies is approximately proportional to the population of each state, albeit with a stipulation that no state can have fewer than eight or more than seventy deputies. This apportionment system bestows a comparatively greater degree of political influence upon the states in the Northeast and North regions, while the populous state of São Paulo experiences a notable underrepresentation.

The Federal Senate comprises 81 seats, with each state and the Federal District contributing three senators who serve staggered eight-year terms. Elections for the Senate are conducted every four years, with the seats being contested alternately—one-third (27 seats) during one election cycle and the remaining two-thirds (54 seats) in the next. Senators are elected directly by the populace of their respective states.

The executive

The President, serving as both the Head of State and the Head of Government, wields the executive authority. This individual is elected directly for a term of four years, with the possibility of standing for re-election once. The President has the prerogative to appoint a Cabinet, which includes various Ministers of State as well as leaders of other departments at the ministerial level.

The executive branch holds substantial powers, with considerable authority over economic and foreign policies, fiscal matters, and domestic security. In legislative processes, the President has the capacity to propose bills to Congress, which then has 30 days to deliberate and render a decision. Should Congress fail to act within this allotted timeframe, the proposed bill is deemed to be ratified. Moreover, the President has the power to partially or fully veto any legislation passed by Congress. Additionally, the President can enact provisional measures that have an immediate effect and last for a period of 30 days.

The President also holds the title of Commander in Chief of the armed forces. It should be noted, however, that the dynamics of civil-military relations have historically been complex and are not to be assumed as consistent or straightforward.


The judicial framework of Brazil is bifurcated into two primary sectors: the general judiciary, encompassing state and federal tribunals, and the specialized judiciary, which includes tribunals dedicated to labor, electoral, and military matters.

At the pinnacle of Brazil’s legal hierarchy sits the Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal), which is constituted by 11 justices appointed by the President of Brazil and confirmed by the Federal Senate. This apex court is tasked with the final adjudication of constitutional disputes and presides over cases that involve high-ranking officials such as the President, Vice President, members of Congress, judiciary figures, the Attorney General, cabinet ministers, diplomats, foreign states, and the federative units of Brazil.

The Superior Court of Justice (Superior Tribunal de Justiça), comprised of 33 judges also appointed by the President with Senate confirmation, represents the ultimate authority on non-constitutional legal issues. It addresses legal matters that concern state governors and the governor of the Federal District. The general judiciary further incorporates Regional Federal Courts, which are appellate courts, and state and federal courts that operate at the first level of jurisdiction.

Within the specialized judiciary, electoral courts oversee the regulation and financial supervision of political parties, determine election dates, and adjudicate electoral offenses. Labour courts facilitate the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, while military courts hold jurisdiction over cases pertaining to members of the armed forces.

Despite historical challenges such as inefficiency, allegations of political partiality, and pervasive corruption within the Brazilian judicial system, significant reform efforts have been undertaken. One of the most consequential reforms was the enactment of Constitutional Amendment 45 in 2004, which introduced the principle of stare decisis, thereby mandating that decisions from higher courts serve as binding precedents to enhance the effectiveness of the lower courts. This amendment also led to the creation of the National Council of Justice, an external body charged with monitoring judicial conduct and addressing grievances against members of the judiciary.

Regional, state, and local administration

The national government does not establish distinct regional governing bodies; however, it fosters economic advancement in less affluent areas via entities such as the Superintendency for the Development of the Northeast (SUDENE), established in 1959, and the Superintendency for the Development of the Amazon (SUDAM), created in 1966. These superintendencies allocate federal funding to various developmental initiatives and manage tax incentives designed to encourage local and regional investments. Nonetheless, the strategic approaches of these agencies have exhibited considerable variation across different federal administrations, and there is a notable overlap in agency responsibilities, particularly at the municipal level.

Within the nation, states enjoy a degree of autonomy, each possessing its own constitution, judiciary, and government structure, including directly elected governors and legislative assemblies. Since the 1990s, the Federal District has been under the administration of a directly elected governor, a shift from the previous practice where the president appointed a mayor to manage the district.

Brazil is further divided into over 5,000 municipalities, established by the states in compliance with national standards. These municipalities, akin to counties, encompass both urban and rural territories and are financially independent, governed by directly elected mayors and municipal councils. The major urban centers are typically the capitals of their respective states, and the dynamics between state governors and city mayors are frequently characterized by administrative competition.

Political parties

The foundations of the present-day political party structure in Brazil were set during the 1940s under the leadership of President Getúlio Dorneles Vargas. In an effort to consolidate his waning administration, President Vargas established the Social Democratic Party and the Brazilian Labour Party. Throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s, a variety of political parties were formed and participated in elections, though only a select few achieved significant traction.

In 1965, following a military coup the year prior, the then military government disbanded the existing political parties. This action led to the creation of two singular entities: the National Renewal Alliance, which served as the government’s party, and the Brazilian Democratic Movement, which was the only permitted opposition party. In 1979, these two entities were dissolved, and the government permitted the formation of additional political parties, albeit under stringent regulations.

With the reestablishment of civilian rule in 1985, Brazil reinstated the legality of all political parties. This transition gave rise to a highly pluralistic multiparty system. Key political organizations that have since anchored this system include the Liberal Front Party, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, and the Workers’ Party.

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