International Seminar on Electoral Systems: remarks by the regional director of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) close the first day

zovatto seminário

The first day of the International Seminar on Electoral Systems, held on Monday, March 20, in the noble hall of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), ended with the closing remarks of Daniel Zovatto, regional director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). He addressed the evolution of Brazilian democratic institutions - which he personally observed in the last 32 years - since the re-democratization, especially in the electoral system that is adopted in the country.

For Zovatto, the implementation of electronic voting in Brazil, since 1996, served as a watershed in Brazilian and Latin American democratization. He also highlighted the role of the Brazilian Electoral Court in complex issues in the face of lack of decision by political parties, such as coalition issues and electoral financing.

According to him, the application of the open list system in Brazil remains a pending issue after unsuccessful attempts at reform. Also, the low female representation in the Brazilian parliament needs special attention from the reformers, in order view to correct this distortion of the country's political system. "Today Brazil is among the countries with the lowest electoral participation rate in Latin America, which is around 23 to 24 percent". He says he believes there is a clear consensus on the main shortcomings and limitations of the current political-electoral system. "There is no doubt, in Hamlet's terms, of 'reforming or not reforming'. We have to reform", warned the director.

The main challenge of the reforms, according to Zovatto, is, on the one hand, the little time available to discuss, vote and implement reforms to be valid in the general elections of 2018; and, on the other the "perfect storm" in which Brazil finds itself today, with the political class under suspicion, a delegitimized political system and investigations into crimes committed against the political-electoral system through Operation Lava-Jato. "Crises in general are good midwives of the reforms, and can, in the general context of Brazil, carry out a reform that goes in the right direction", he believes. He pointed out, however, that failure to adequately control the impact of the crisis could have the opposite effect: to create a boycott against the necessary reforms.

"What should we do?" Is the key question to ask, according to Daniel Zovatto. "We have to be clear on what direction we have to go and the principles that can guide this reform," he added.

He said he did not know in Latin America a precedent that an open-list system could return to the closed-list system. Zovatto believes that the open-list system has a greater appeal to voters, so much so that a large number of countries, such as Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Honduras, which have a closed-list system, are promoting reforms to move to the open-list system. 

For him, the question of whether or not to implement the reform passes through the sieve of the political class itself, which questions whether in the new rules, it will maintain its status. "This is the only branch of law in which the parties regulate themselves and regulate their own future. And the perversion of the Brazilian electoral system is that it has generated a system of political parties increasingly distanced from society, and served as an incentive to generate electoral micro-enterprises, where the elected becomes a micro-entrepreneur", he said. According to Daniel Zovatto, this system of ideological disintegration, which leads to the commercialization of political favors encouraged by political fragmentation, develops strongly in the system of presidential coalition.

"In order to do this exchange of favors, you need money. And money, from the private or public sector, is obtained through corruption”, said Zovatto. He believes that the root cause of the Brazilian electoral system is the excessive fragmentation of the parties. And for the system to work, it needs a lot of money that, in addition to inciting corruption, ends up jeopardizing the efficiency of government by creating many ministries to accommodate the political class that supports it. 

Mr. Zovatto indicated the need for incentives to attract decision-makers to can make the reforms - who, at the same time, arrived at their positions precisely through the system that is to be reformed. "They need to see themselves, somehow, rewarded for this change. Unless the crisis increases even more, and it is because of this greater crisis that the change is made”, he said.

Daniel Zovatto also said that he has analyzed all the reform proposals that have been tried in Brazil in the last 30 years, and said that although the set of items that need to be reformed has been clear for a long time, all the attempts have failed preponderantly due to the lack of political will to generate consensus.

The IDEA director pointed out the 13 themes that, according to his research, need to be reformed in Brazil. For him, what needs to be reformed is not only the Brazilian political-electoral system, but the way of doing politics in the country.

The themes are: the electoral formula – to keep the presidential election direct, with two rounds, four years in office and one reelection? For the legislature, to adopt a majority or proportional representation system, or a mixed system that combines districts with lists, similar to Germany?; to keep the list open or to adopt a closed-list system? To adopt the new system by 2018 or to adopt a transitional system for the next year, and the new system by 2022?; What percentage to adopt as a  barrier clause? How to control political fragmentation in multiple political parties? How to make them support a measure that will ultimately hurt them; party coalitions: how to allow them without circumventing the barrier clause? Reiterate the criminalization of the purchase of votes, by both voters and deputies and senators; party loyalty; grounds for ineligibility; to maintain, or not, the simultaneity of presidential and legislative elections?; how to strengthen the internal democracy of political parties in charge of deciding on closed list?; to promote gender equality in the closed list, in the proportion 50% - 50% ?; to include the recall institute for all positions, rather than just the existing impeachment institute?; to retain mandatory vote or not? how to lift the obligation to vote without running the risk of elections delegitimized by negligence of the voters? electoral funding: to establish public funding, maintaining the individual private or re-enabling donations from legal entities, with a strict monitoring system?

IDEA regional director stressed that it is not the role of the organization to respond to these issues, but to propose a discussion so that the Brazilian institutions themselves have the means to make the best decisions on their own. He pointed, however, to the danger that the reforms prompted by the crisis will lead to greater individualization of politics, through the weakening of political parties. That is why he stressed the importance of political parties being close to society, with a strong internal democracy that brings them closer to the citizens. "This I think is the way forward in which to move," he concluded.

Watch the first day of the "International Seminar on Electoral Systems - International Contribution for the Political Reform in Brazil" on the TSE channel on Youtube, by clicking here.