Lulism and the decline of Brazilian hyper-presidentialism

Image: EBC


The contrast between the strength of the PT in the presidential elections and its weakness in the legislative elections differs from what is seen in other Latin American countries


In the golden times of Brazilian hyper-presidentialism, the head of the federal Executive governed through Provisional Measures (MPs). It was like this in the two FHC governments, when the Presidency of the Republic edited and reissued more than 4.800 MPs. The MPs had a 30-day validity period and could be reissued indefinitely. In 2001, with the approval of Constitutional Amendment no. 32, the validity period of MPs was extended to 60 days with the possibility of extension for another 60 days and the device that allowed the original MPs to be reissued was abolished. Even with the limitations created by the new legislation, the PT government cycle, between 2003 and 2016, was also marked by the intensive use of this legislative device. After the impeachment coup, hyper-presidentialism began to take hold. One of the symptoms of this phenomenon is the significant drop in the rate of MPs converted into law, which already occurred during the Temer government, as we can see in the table below.

Tabela 1Provisional measures by the government after the promulgation of EC n. 32/2001

GovernmentPeriodEditions of MPsConverted into lawLost/revoked or rejectedRate of MPs converted into law (%)
FHC 22001–2002102841882,3
squid 12003–20062402172390,4
squid 22007–20101791493083,2
Dilma 12011–20141451083774,5
Dilma 22015–201659451476,3
To fear2016–2018144836157,6
squid 32023-2024 *8211     42**      20,7***

Table prepared by the authors of this text. Sources:,-MAS-APENAS-8-FORAM-CONVERTIDAS-EM-LEI

* Provisional measures enacted until June 19, 2024.
** 29 MPs are still pending in the National Congress.
*** For calculation purposes, we subtracted the MPs still in process.

The PT, in contrast to its strength in presidential elections, has always had a poor electoral performance in legislative elections – we will give figures later to substantiate the strength of this statement. However, while hyper-presidentialism was strong, the PT's weakness in the National Congress could be overcome, as we know, through the formation of a physiological parliamentary base made up of conservative parties. These parties accepted the vast majority of the Provisional Measures and also the bills prepared by the federal Executive. In fact, for most of this period, there were fewer bills coming from the Legislature itself than those from the Executive. A price was paid for the government's dependence on conservative parties, but even so, the PT governments were able to successfully practice state interventionism in the economy to stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty, a policy that we can call neodevelopmentalist - the possible development within the limits established by the neoliberal capitalist model. However, since the impeachment crisis, as the table above indicates, new developments have emerged. The National Congress was providing itself with new power resources.

According to an article published in the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo[I], in the period from 2015 to 2018, the proportion between approved bills initiated by the Federal Executive and those initiated by congressmen was 154 to 111. This relationship was reversed in the subsequent legislature. Considering the period from 2019 to June 2022, the ratio increased to 140 Executive projects for 215 congressmen. With regard to the ability to interfere in the State budget, in the legislature that began in 2019, and again considering what was recorded until June 2022, the budget allocated to parliamentary amendments more than tripled in relation to the previous legislature, rising from R$ 33 billion to R$115 billion. The number of rejected or partially rejected presidential vetoes jumped from 23, in the period from 2015 to 2018, to 86 in the period from January 2019 to June 2022. Furthermore, the far-right bench, bench which for the most part is not physiological, as it has its own power project. Everything, then, became more difficult for the federal Executive to act on and more difficult, especially, for a progressive federal Executive.

Hyperpresidentialism is making waves and what we are seeing being born is nothing more than presidentialism in the way it is practiced, for example, in the United States, where Congress has always had a much more active participation in defining State policy than in Brazilian hyperpresidentialism. . Such transformation has nothing to do, contrary to what many have boasted, with the transition to an imaginary “semi-parliamentarism” or to something that is being called “budgetary parliamentarism”. In a parliamentary regime, it is impossible to occur what is precisely characterizing the situation of Brazilian politics: the permanent conflict between the parliamentary majority, which cannot resort to a vote of no confidence, and the head of the Federal Executive, who is shielded by a mandate with a fixed term. The most interesting question is another: could the decline of hyper-presidentialism lead to the decline of Lulism, a political current that has proven incapable of obtaining a parliamentary majority?


In the second round of presidential elections that have taken place since the end of the military dictatorship, the PT obtained between 40 and 60% of the votes. In the same period, in the elections for the Federal Chamber, this same party, the PT, won around 15% of the seats and has a similar or worse performance in the Federal Senate.[ii]. It is true that this comparison could be made more precisely. We could, as an example, take into account, not the vote in the second round of the presidential election, but rather the vote in the first round, and we could also consider that the vote for the Legislature in Brazil is an unequal vote that reduces the value of the vote of the electorate in the most populous states. If we were to make these two procedures more refined, it is certain that the first modification would somewhat reduce the contrast between the vote that the PT has obtained for the Executive and that which this party has been obtaining for the Legislative, but the second weighting, on the contrary, would increase this contrast, since the PT, at least since 2006, is stronger electorally in the less populous states whose parliamentary representation is inflated, to the detriment of the more populous states, due to the unequal vote for the Legislature imposed by the Brazilian electoral system. For this short text, however, we are considering that we can ignore such details since the difference between the PT's electoral performance in the Executive and Legislative branches is too great, whatever the calculations we do.

A quick comparative analysis with some of the main Latin American countries allows us to affirm that this great contrast between the PT's performance in the presidential elections and in the legislative elections can be characterized as a Brazilian exceptionality. In fact, in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Uruguay, this enormous contrast in the performance of the left and center-left in the two types of elections simply does not exist. And it is necessary to draw attention to this particularity of the Brazilian situation compared to the situation in the main countries of the Region, because political journalism and even part of the left tend to naturalize the Brazilian exception which, in truth, should cause a lot of strangeness. The presidential candidate of the Mexican left, Claudia Sheinbaum, just won this year's presidential election and her party, Morena, obtained a two-thirds qualified majority in the Chamber and also in the Mexican Senate. Morena forms a coalition with two smaller progressive parties – note this: progressive – but with its own votes alone, Morena already has a majority in Mexico's Congress. Evo Morales and Luis Arce have always been able to count on their party, MAS, as the majority party in the Bolivian Congress. In 2009 and 2014, the MAS obtained two thirds of the seats in the Chamber and the Senate, therefore enjoying a qualified majority to support the Federal Executive and, despite losing a little vote in the legislative mandates that began in the following period, it was left with an absolute majority in both legislative houses. In Argentina and Uruguay in the XNUMXst century, center-left presidencies have always had a center-left majority in Congress or nearly so. Ultimately, in none of the countries mentioned is there the contrast that we have in Brazil: a progressive president, elected with more than half of the votes, and a conservative Congress, where the president's party is, literally, rickety. An impeachment of the president of the progressive Republic in all the Spanish-American countries mentioned is practically impossible. There, unlike Brazil, the right has to assume a high cost if it intends to carry out a coup d'état. In Brazil, as we know, the reaction can bring about institutional rupture at a much lower political cost.


Why do the left and center-left in Brazil have poor representation in the National Congress? A definitive answer to this question requires in-depth investigation. That is not the objective of this short text. We just want to indicate some plausible hypotheses and contribute to a discussion that is certainly of the greatest importance for defining the political tactics of the Brazilian left. These hypotheses show that something more is needed than mere warnings and calls about the importance of electing progressive deputies if we really want to change the correlation of forces, historically unfavorable for the left, in the National Congress.

One of the fundamental causes of the poor representation of the Brazilian left and center-left in the National Congress is the fact that Lulism is a type of populism and, therefore, politically personalist and non-organizing, and this mainly with regard to organization in the Brazilian Congress. party level[iii]. It is true that political personalism is not a prerogative of Brazilian politics, as it is a widespread phenomenon in contemporary politics, but we believe that this phenomenon involves gradations. Lulist populism, in our hypothesis, is much more personalistic than the progressive political leaders of the other countries mentioned. Or, put another way, we are admitting that in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Uruguay, the vote is more partisan than in the case of Lulism in Brazil. As many observers point out, the majority of Lula voters are, pardon the redundancy, Lula voters, not PT voters. In Brazil, the fact that the vote is more personalized, that is, less partisan than in the countries mentioned, this fact makes it difficult for voters to perceive the political unity that exists between the progressive presidential candidacy and the PT candidates for the National Congress. and, which is the other side of the same coin, also makes it difficult to perceive the difference that separates the progressive presidential candidacy from the conservative candidacies for the National Congress.

Does this mean that the Lulista electorate is depoliticized? Yes and no. He is not in the way that liberals and the right in general intend. That is, the voter does not vote for Lula because of his supposed “charisma” or for his person, who would thus have the conditions to manipulate a so-called uninformed electorate, but votes for Lula because of the economic and social policy he expects from him. Therefore, yes, there is an effective political relationship, but the particularity in this case is that the political character of this relationship is hidden by the perception that the parties involved have of it. This concealment makes the Lulista voter feel grateful to the president for his social policies and does not see himself as committed to a defined party program. Political identification remains diffuse. And this is the other dimension, as effective as the previous one, personalist and depoliticizing Lulism. It should be added that the main support base – not the leading force – of Lulism is the large contingent of workers from the marginal mass who, due to their economic and social situation, present great difficulty in political organization. They only participate intermittently in political activity and through voting.

on the occasion of Lula Caravan through Brazil In 2017, when Lula toured the Northeastern states, it was common for the public present at his rallies to express their support with the cry: “Lula, I love you”. That year, a report, still published today on the PT website and the party's Facebook, had the title: “For many people from the Northeast, Lula is known as 'father'”. And the article continues: “This is what he is called in every city, by thousands of people who follow him. This Monday [-Friday], he received several declarations of love in Lagarto.” [iv]. We add: this phenomenon precedes the Lula Caravan Through Brazil and continues to be present today. In the period of 2021 and 2022, the speeches issued by Lula or his campaign that reinforced his personalistic and paternalistic relationship with supporters were repeated. In his public appearances, Lula made a point of highlighting that the word govern should be replaced by the expression “taking care of the people”. The jargon “the father is on” was widely used in his political marketing to reiterate the idea of ​​Lula as the father of the people and to also suggest that Lula is a father who is present and responsible for his people.[v]. The love for the president was celebrated by one of the most widespread jingles at rallies and campaign activities: “Oh Lula, your name is kept in my heart / You won’t leave my mind / And here in my shack everyone already loves you” . The current perception in the Lulista camp according to which the political relationship between the leadership and its base would be a personal relationship, this perception is something known, but a large part of the left does not give due importance to this phenomenon. It was even “theorized” that the individualization of leadership is the “Brazilian way” of doing politics, suggesting that it would be unnecessary and even useless to fight against it.

The personalization of political leadership can retreat, or even disappear, only if workers are organized into mass parties, that is, political parties with grassroots organization in the workplace and/or home; parties that provide ongoing political education for their members; that have permanent political activity and not just in election years and that wage internal political disputes based on programmatic issues and processes and forums designed for this purpose. It has already been claimed, in public debates, that in populous countries like Brazil it would be unfeasible to build mass parties. There would thus be no other option other than the personalistic relationship between the leader and the masses. The argument is strange because the most prominent mass parties in history existed precisely in countries with large or gigantic populations – Germany of the Second International, Tsarist Russia and Revolutionary China. Well, if, instead of being organized in mass parties, workers are politically disorganized, mobilizing only during electoral periods to support progressive political leadership, they become vulnerable to harassment from the mainstream media, social network robots social groups and those who have widespread power in Brazilian society, power originating from the capitalist structure and dependent on this society – the owners of millions of small and medium-sized companies spread across the country, landowners, local political leaders, evangelical pastors, militias etc.

It is true that these centers of social power will act not only against the progressive candidates for the National Congress, but also against the progressive candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic. However, our hypothesis is that they have reason to focus their efforts on the fight for legislative candidacies and the subnational branches of the State. This myriad of capillary power centers in Brazilian society represents social classes and class fractions that are unable to fight for hegemony in the national State – the petty bourgeoisie, middle capital, farmers, the upper middle class and others. In the dispute for control of the economic, social and external policy of the national State, only big capital – productive and/or financial, national and/or international – participates. It is the bourgeois segments that are able, in today's Brazil, to determine the main aspects of the Brazilian State's policy. What remains, realistically, for the classes and class fractions that, although bourgeois, are excluded from the struggle for hegemony in the State, is to focus on the struggle for the subordinate branches of the State apparatus and try to influence, whatever the momentary segment. hegemony of big capital, whatever the government of the moment, in political measures whose importance is not vital for the most powerful bourgeois segments, but which are sufficient to moderate the losses arising from the necessarily subordinate position they occupy. Finally, they are involved electorally in the presidential and legislative dispute, but they concentrate their forces on obtaining city halls, state governments and seats in the national, state and municipal legislative branch.[vi]. And this is where things get very difficult for PT candidates for legislative positions who address the electorate without the mediation of the mass party organization. Ideological indoctrination, the practice of clientelism and the intimidation that the right, supported by peripheral centers of economic and social power, can carry out, is the weapon that conservative candidacies for the Federal Chamber rely on.[vii].

Another element to be considered, and which we will only indicate here, is, as some observers highlight, the Brazilian electoral system. This system holds legislative elections based on an open list of candidates. Voters can choose the candidate for councilor or deputy they prefer, including voting for different parties for the positions in dispute. The vote is for the candidate, not the party. In Colombia, where President Gustavo Petro is in the minority in the national Congress, the system also uses the open list, although it combines it with the closed list[viii]. The personalism of the presidential election is also present in the open list legislative election or, to put it another way, non-partisanship runs through the system from top to bottom. The open list is an institutional arrangement that favors personalism, while the closed list favors the partisanship of legislative elections. Everyone knows that in municipal elections the party barriers that divide national politics can be ignored in favor of local arrangements.[ix].

Returning to the comparison with Latin American countries, it is worth noting that in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Uruguay, voting for the legislature is by closed list[X]. Voters do not choose the candidate, only the party they wish to vote for to occupy seats in the legislature. It is clear that an in-depth examination of the electoral systems of all the countries mentioned would also require considering other characteristics of such systems, but the alternative closed list voting versus Open list voting is important enough for us to consider it a central element in our discussion.

In Brazil, in 2007 and again in 2015, the Chamber of Deputies rejected proposals to reform the electoral system that established a closed list system for legislative elections. In 2007 it was Bill 1210/07 and PT deputies voted in favor of the closed list; but, in 2015, PT deputies took a stand against the Amendment presented by the PMDB to the PEC of Political Reform, an amendment that established closed list voting for the Legislature[xi]. On that occasion, the PT leader in the Chamber, Deputy Sibá Machado (PT-AC), declared that the PT was, in principle, in favor of the closed list, but that before its implementation it would first be necessary to politically educate society. “Today, society looks at the political process and says it wants to vote for the candidate and not for the party”, observed the PT leadership. We did not investigate enough to be able to judge the reasons that led the PT to position itself against the partisanship of legislative elections in Brazil, a partisanship that is of so much interest to workers[xii].


With the decline of hyper-presidentialism, difficulties increased for the Brazilian left. Until now, the combination between, on the one hand, personalized national political leadership at the top, and, on the other, demanding and segmented movements, that is, limited like all demanding movements, at the base, was working for Lulism, thanks precisely to regime of complete concentration of the decision-making process in the hands of the federal Executive. Part of the left may have come to imagine that it was freed from the labor of organizing the great mass of workers into a political party – we are talking about party organization, which is the superior form of organization of workers, and not social movements. The recipe was the alliance of populism with the stance that overvalues ​​the movement for demands, the acclaimed social movements. But, now that the National Congress is no longer an institution so docile to the demands of the Presidency of the Republic, as it was in the FHC 1 and 2, Lula 1 and 2 governments, and now that there is in the National Congress a neo-fascist right that does not do the same game of physiology, we are witnessing a growing erosion of Lulism itself, as it depended on that modality of presidentialism.

*Armando Boito Jr. is professor of political science at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of State, politics and social classes (Unesp). []

*Danilo Enrico Martuscelli is a professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU) and editor of the blog marxism21 and author, among other books, of Political crises and neoliberal capitalism in Brazil (CRV, 2015) []


[I] View:

[ii] The number of federal deputies elected by the PT in the last six elections has never allowed the party to surpass the modest mark of 17% of the seats in the Federal Chamber in any legislature: 91 deputies elected in 2002, 83 in 2006, 86 in 2010, 69 in 2014, 56 in 2018 and 69 in 2022. The party's results in the Federal Senate are equally modest. The number of senators elected by the PT in the years in which 54 seats were up for grabs are as follows: 10 in 2002, 11 in 2010, 4 in 2018. In the years in which 27 seats were up for grabs, the scenario is the same or worse: 2 in 2006, 2 in 2014 and 4 in 2022. For a complete overview of these and other electoral data about the PT from 2002 to 2022, see the article by Danilo Enrico Martuscelli and Sávio Machado Cavalcante, “Political effects of the third neoliberal offensive in Bolivia and Brazil”. CRH notebook, v. 36 (2023) – It also draws attention to the fact that, in the same period, the maximum number of candidates that the PT managed to launch for federal deputy was always much lower than the number of seats in the Federal Chamber, which is 513: 442 candidates in 2002, 367 in 2006 , 373 in 2010, 395 in 2014, 403 in 2018 and 362 in 2022. See:

[iii] This thesis is developed in Armando Boito Jr, “O lulismo, populismo e o bonapartismo”, in Armando Boito Jr., Reform and political crisis in Brazil – class conflicts in PT governments. São Paulo and Campinas: publishers Unesp and Unicamp. 2018. pp. 121-155.


[v] See the article published last week on the website Brazil247 with the following call: “I will take care of you like I take care of my son, like I take care of my granddaughter, Lula tells the miners”. At the time of this speech, the president was announcing a package of investments in infrastructure and social areas in the State of Minas Gerais. Brazil247 on June 29, 2024.

[vi] In the period from 2002 to 2022, in the years in which it achieved its best electoral performance, the PT elected only five governors out of a total of 27 in five successive elections – 2006, 2010 and 2014 – and 638 mayors out of a total of 5.568 in 2012. In addition Furthermore, it is worth noting that, in the 26 capitals and 70 municipalities with more than 200 thousand voters, the PT's performance was generally fragile, and became insignificant from 2016 onwards: 9 mayors elected in 1996, 22 in 2000, 21 in 2004, 25 in 2008, 18 in 2012, just 1 in 2016 and 4 in 2020. See: The Assembly of God, before Bolsonaro's presidential candidacy, systematically concentrated its electoral efforts on legislative positions. See Vinicius do Valle, Between religion and Lulism. São Paulo: Editora Recriar. 2019.

[vii] We talk about clientelism and not coronelism because we consider the latter a residual phenomenon in Brazilian politics. See Franscisco Farias, “Clientelism and political democracy: elements for an alternative approach”. Journal of Sociology and Politics (15) November 2000.

[viii] VIEW

[ix] Significant example. In the 2008 municipal elections, when Lulism was at its best, more than 40% of local alliances united the PT with parties that opposed the Lula Government. Specifically with the PSDB, the PT allied itself in more than 1.000 municipalities out of the 5.563 then existing. See 2008 Elections – Coalitions. Newspaper Folha de S. Paul. September 30, 2008.

[X] Guillermo Oglietti, “Presidential and legislative electoral regulations in Latin America”. Celag

[xi] See the article “Plenary rejects closed list electoral system”. Chamber of Deputies Agency.

[xii] Newspaper State of Minas. “Chamber rejects closed list for election of parliamentarians”. Edition of May 26, 2015.,651693/camara-rejeita-lista-fechada-para-eleicao-de- parliamentarians.shtml

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