Brazil is a federal democratic republic with a population of 190 million and an area of 8.5 square kilometres, making it the fifth largest country in the world. The people of Brazil share three strands of history: native Brazilians, descendants of Portuguese settlers starting 300 years ago, and Afro-Brazilians who began arriving around the same time, brought in to work as slaves on the sugar cane plantations and later in the gold and diamond mines and coffee plantations.
Brazil’s history has been characterized by social and economic disparities and its pattern of intergovernmental relations, even before the institution of federalism, went through alternating phases of centralization and decentralization.
The Brazilian federation has three levels of government: the central or Union government; 26 state governments and the Federal District government; and more than 5,500 municipal governments.
From independence, proclaimed in 1822, to the end of nineteenth century, Brazil had a monarchical regime led by two descendants of a deposed Portuguese monarch - considered the only political regime that could preserve slavery and a unitary political-administration, the two basic elements of the colonial system needed by the dominant landed aristocracy.
Immediately after the military revolt that ended the monarchy in 1889, the republican alliance adopted a federal system in which the provinces of the empire were transformed into states. The parliamentary system was replaced with a presidential one, a bicameral Congress (Chamber of Deputies and Senate) was created, and a completely independent Supreme Court was created. Brazil’s federal system, created by the constitution of 1891, gave significant political autonomy to the already economically powerful state elites.
Contested presidential elections in 1929 led to revolution in 1930. The revolutionary forces reduced the autonomy of the states. In November 1937, Getúlio Vargas led a military coup that centralized political power in the President’s hands.
A revolt by military officials in 1945 brought back federalism through a regime associated, for the first time in the Republic’s history, with a competitive national party system. During this period, state governorships became fiercely-contested political assets because of their importance for the presidential elections.
The Brazilian military seized control in 1964 but maintained several representative constitutional provisions, including the federal provisions and the regular election of the Governors (albeit indirectly by the state assemblies) and state assemblies.
In 1982, the first direct elections for state governments since 1965 were held, as well as the first elections for Congress under a multi-party system.
From 1990, when Fernando Collor became the first directly elected President of the Republic in 30 years, to 1994 when Fernando Henrique Cardoso became President, the Governors played a major role in national politics, influencing the behaviour of federal deputies especially through the exercise of patronage or manipulating their chances of re-election.
The increased predominance of state interests in the federal regime culminated in the creation of the Constitutional Assembly (1987-88) in which the state and municipal governments consolidated the process of fiscal decentralization initiated in the late 1970s.
In December of 1989 Brazil held its first direct presidential election since 1960, and Fernando Collor de Mello was elected President. Congress impeached him two years later and Itamar Franco, the Vice President, was sworn in as President to serve the remaining two years of Collor’s four-year term.
On October 3, 1994, voters elected a new president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a sociologist and former Finance Minister responsible for President Franco’s economic plan. Cardoso won a second term in 1998.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from the opposition Workers’ Party, was inaugurated as President of Brazil on January 1, 2003, after being elected in October of 2002 with over 61 percent of the valid votes cast. He won a second term in 2006.