The dismantling of social participation

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Bolsonaro continues in his anti-democratic goals of reducing as much as possible the spaces for debate, participation and control of society over public policies

On April 11, 2019, by Decree 9759/2019, Jair Bolsonaro promoted the extinction of collegiate bodies (councils, committees and other mechanisms) that enable the participation of civil society in the federal public administration. The objective was clear: to show his political base that he would spare no efforts to end all “activism” – an expression he has used since his election campaign in 2018 to designate public demonstrations and social movements that diverge from his narrow worldview – that could bother him in the exercise of the central power of the Republic.

The Decree is not a minor chapter in the Bolsonarist strategy of destroying the State and imposing an authoritarian mode of public management. The national councils are collegiate bodies that promote the democratic management of public policies, provided for in the Federal Constitution of 1988. Most of them, however, are supported by fragile legislation, based on Executive decrees and not on laws approved by Parliament. Some of the exceptions are the National Health Council (Law No. 8142/1990), the National Social Assistance Council (Law No. 8742/1993), the National Education Council (Law No. 9131/1995) and the National Human Rights Council , created by João Goulart fifteen days before the 1964 coup and which was reformulated by Law 12.986/2014. These councils have suffered some attacks over these two years, such as pressure and changes in government representation, but their legislation has not been changed.

The Decree generated a broad mobilization of civil society and political parties in opposition to the Bolsonaro government. This process was able to partially limit the destructive capacity of such measures. On April 22 of that year, the Workers' Party filed a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADI) 6121 with the Federal Supreme Court with a view to overthrowing the Decree. The STF partially granted the precautionary measure, ruling out the possibility that the Chief Executive may extinguish a collegiate whose existence is mentioned in the law, which was provided for in the sole paragraph of its Art. 1st.

As most councils with civil society participation are mentioned in laws on the structure of government, Bolsonaro had to change his initial extinction strategy to a strategy of emptying the Councils in terms of functions or in terms of social representation. Thus, the government began to edit specific decrees to change the regulation of each of the more than 90 councils with social participation. This series of new regulations led to drastic changes that interrupted elective mandates and, in many cases, practically nullified the function of the Council, maintaining only its formal existence.

Fundamental councils for the formulation and monitoring of public policies had their original functions altered and the representation of civil society diminished or annulled. In the case of the National Drug Policy Council (CNPD), Decree 9926/2019 excluded all representation from civil society. Only members of the government and a representative of the sector's state councils remained.

Another dramatic case is the National Council for Combating Discrimination and Promotion of the Rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals (CNCD/LGBT), which kept only the first initials and had the term LGBT excluded from its name and duties. , which began to refer generically to “combating discrimination”. In addition to this erasure of an entire segment of the population, there was a drastic reduction from fifteen members of civil society to just three. Although the entities nominated for these remaining vacancies are still linked to organizations that work on the issue of sexual diversity, there is a significant loss of power, legitimacy and political representation.

With this new strategy, which involves meticulous work not only with new decrees, but with infralegal changes, including ordinances, resolutions and bylaws, Bolsonaro managed to affect the functioning of even councils created decades ago. .The National Council for the Environment (CONAMA), originally regulated by Decree 99.274/1990, has had few changes in its composition over its almost 30 years of existence. But, with Decree 9806/2019, its composition was reduced from 96 to 23 representatives, of which only four represent civil society and are defined by lot. This is not just a reduction in the representation of civil society, but also a strong retraction of the State's own capacity to produce actions and facilitate internal deliberative processes, something absolutely consistent with the conduct of the Minister of the Environment himself.

The National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (CONANDA), created by Law 8.242/1991, is another case of a council with a long history of activity that was affected. CONANDA is a key part of the protection system established by the ECA, responsible for its articulation and financing through the management of a National Fund. However, its composition was foreseen only in a Decree, which led the government to reduce the composition from 28 to 18 members, among other limitations to its operation, which mischaracterize it.

This situation was also taken to the Federal Supreme Court once again, through Arguição de Descumprimento de Preceito Fundamental (APDF) 622. unmotivated violate the constitutional principles of equality and direct popular participation, restoring the term of office of former councilors until its final term and other guarantees of autonomy in the representation of civil society.

These cases offer an overview of how Bolsonaro pursues his anti-democratic goals of reducing as much as possible the spaces for debate, participation and control of society over public policies. Although he did not achieve his initial objective directly in the face of social and institutional resistance, he continued to work within the limits of legality, changing the minutiae of regulations, even in cases that had been consolidated for decades. Such measures, in addition to their clear attack on democratic principles, also end up affecting the state's capacity to produce public policies. Not by chance, not only the councils mentioned above were affected and weakened, but also the public policies with which they relate, such as the environment and LGBT rights.

This week from April 11th to 18th, around 300 civil society entities will hold the Decommemoration Week for the two years of Decree 9759/2019, with public hearings, lives and events throughout Brazil. The proposal is to strengthen the struggle for civil society's role in the formulation, monitoring and social control of public policies and against the Decree. Also to draw attention to society and political agents to the seriousness of what has been happening in the federal public administration, and to the STF to proceed with the final judgment of ADI 6121 and APDF 622 as quickly as possible. The Action Manifesto of the network of entities can be read at the link

*Wagner Romao Professor of Political Science at Unicamp.

*Carla Bezerra holds a PhD in political science from USP.

*Maira Rodrigues is a visiting professor at UFABC.


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