No Constitutional Assembly After All? The Tortuous Path to Political Reform in Brazil

Apparently, the desire to consider constitutional reforms via a referendum was short-lived:

President Dilma Rousseff backed down from the proposal to have a plebiscite to convoke a constitutional assembly, the president of the Organization of Brazilian Lawyers [OAB], Marcus Vinicius Coelho, said this Tuesday (25th), after participating in a meeting with the president, the vice president, Michel Temer, and minister José Eduardo Cardozo (Justice) in the Planalto Palace.

The change of the Planalto’s stance with regards to the issue – which was the principal and most polemical proposal the president presented in response to the demonstrations that have taken the streets in recent weeks – will be publicly presented by the minister of Justice, according to what Coelho reported.


According to the president of the OAB, an organization that since yesterday is one of those most opposed to Rousseff’s proposal, the model that should be publicly proposed now is that the very political reform itself be included in plebiscite. Translation: specific questions, yet to be determined, but that will involve basic reforms to the electoral process, and not to the present system of representation, will be offered to the population, which will be able to vote yes or no to each of the points. The OAB president said that the idea is to hold the plebiscite in October, in a way that would be valid for the 2014 elections.

This is not exactly bad news, but it’s not necessarily clear it is great news, either. Clearly, the presidential will to address the people’s political concerns and demands is there, and, depending on those “specific questions, yet to be determined,” perhaps a plebiscite on political reform will have a broad and long-lasting effect. That said, the plebiscite could offer toothless reforms, too, and implementation of policies without constitutional revision [if that is the case] could be difficult. At the risk of being vague, it is  too early to say exactly what will happen, but one thing is certain: the broader political issues are going to take awhile to resolve, and there is no guarantee that they will address the structural, systematic, or practical issues that demonstrators in Brazil have raised. Rousseff’s meeting with leaders and governors are good early steps, but they are far from clear indicators of the unqualified success of demonstrators to transform Brazilian politics. While the popular will for political reforms is currently broad, the ways, effects, and extent of those reforms is far from certain right now. Simply (and perhaps obviously, but worth stating anyways), this is going to take awhile, and will be worth following in the coming months.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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