How politicians gain from controversial bills even when they don't pass them

The Bolsonaro government reaches the last year of its mandate with low performance in approving agendas that are more clearly identified with the conservative public. This finding, naturally, frustrates its most loyal electorate, but historically it is not unprecedented. Despite the years in power, the Workers’ Party (PT) also failed to advance much in matters with a more ideological content. evident, at least in what depended on approval by the National Congress – fortunately, abortion and marijuana were not legalized, for example.

Even so, without evidence that they will be successful in the process, projects Laws tailored to satisfy the aspirations of militancy, whether left or right, are constantly presented by deputies, senators and the Executive Power itself. If the chances of becoming law are minimal, what motivates them to invest in this type of proposal?

Analysts point out that part of the answer lies in the main motivating force for the actions of any elected politician: the expectation of vote. When there are signs that a certain topic is arousing interest in a considerable part of the population, politicians try to link themselves to that topic in some way. Presenting a bill related to the subject is one of these means of binding.

Thus, even if the chances of the proposal becoming law are small, the act of filing a bill on the subject in question favors the author who can tell his audience that he is doing something about it. “By acting in this way, the parliamentarian wants to send a message that maintains his position and loyalty to the voter”, explains Doctor of Law Eduardo Faria Silva, professor of the Masters in Law at Universidade Positivo. He recalls that, as a rule, parliamentary action is directed towards its electoral base, both present and future. That is why approving everything he proposes is not necessarily the objective of a parliamentarian when he files a proposal. In addition to being attempts to change legislation, the bills also serve political purposes.

The increased interest in the topic of homeschooling serves example to illustrate this dynamic. In 2019, the PL 2401/2019, which proposes the regulation of the modality and is authored by the Executive Branch, was the most followed education proposal on the Chamber’s website among all 24.101 that were in process until that moment. The project has not made significant progress since then, but, aware of the interest of its electorate, the government announced it as a priority both at the beginning of the mandate, in 513, and when the presidency of the Chamber, in 2021. Not by chance, the Parliamentary Front in Defense of Homeschooling, also created in 2019, reached the impressive number of 233 signatories, surpassing, for example, the size of the Evangelical Parliamentary Front, which has 101. The volume of bills dealing with homeschooling has also grown and today there are eight in the Chamber alone, half of which were filed in the last three years.

It should be noted that it is not just enthusiasts who try to link themselves to a topic that is on the rise. Gaining prominence as an antagonist also yields political capital to parliamentarians. This is the reason why, among the bills on homeschooling cited, there is one that does not regulate the practice, but explicitly prohibits it. The author is the PT deputy of the first term Natália Bonavides (RN), from the left-wing student militancy and former MST lawyer. In the justification of the proposal, the parliamentarian accuses homeschooling of “annulling” the right to education. Although it is highly unlikely that her text will become law in this legislature, the proposal has won the congresswoman the sympathy of the most virulent opponents of homeschooling.

The same phenomenon is observable with any other agenda with the potential to engage militancy, guaranteeing visibility to the parliamentarian in the heated debates on social networks, WhatsApp groups or even in numerous street demonstrations, as occurred in August and September of 2021, when the printed vote became one of the main political banners for the Independence Day acts. Although the parliamentarians directly involved in the articulation of that agenda were aware that it would be defeated in a vote, the social engagement provoked guaranteed them considerable visibility. The printed vote lost, but the same cannot be said of its most notorious defenders. Politically, they won points with their electorate.

After the peak of the mobilizations around the topic, the objective interest of the main enthusiastsof the printed vote for the security of electronic voting machines ended up being questioned, months later , at the end of November, when the Superior Electoral Court carried out public tests with the equipment, leaving it at the disposal of 24 hackers, for six days, so that they could find loopholes that would allow tampering with the result. None of the deputies who were publicly engaged on the issue attended the tests, giving critics the opportunity to claim that it was all just narrative production.

Researchers in the field of political science point out that one of the The most relevant factors to explain why bills with strong ideological content face difficulty in advancing, even when they are publicly supported by the government, is coalition presidentialism. Consolidated in Brazil since redemocratization, it originates from the Brazilian electoral system itself, which makes the possibility of a single party reaching the majority of seats in the National Congress very remote.

One of the most cited academic works by researchers in this field is Coalition Presidentialism: the Brazilian Institutional Dilemma, by sociologist and postdoctoral fellow in Social Sciences Sergio Abranches, originally published in 1988. In it, the author defines this system as “characterized by instability”, explaining that its support is based, among other factors, “on the willingness to strictly respect the ideological or programmatic points considered non-negotiable, which are not always explicitly and coherently fixed in the formation of the coalition”.

After the election, given the multiplicity of parties with elected representatives, the government or any parliamentarian that intends to see its project approved is practically obliged to seek the cooperation of different acronyms that allow them to form a majority. In this system, historically, the construction of ideologically pure coalitions, formed exclusively by right or left acronyms, has proved to be very difficult, which ends up taking decision-making power to the center parties, without which none of the extremes is able to form majority.

As stated on more than one occasion by the current government leader in the Chamber, federal deputy Ricardo Barros, “the extremes do not govern”. He was referring precisely to the fact that, in Brazil, even if an elected president identifies himself more clearly with a political side, he will depend on the support of centrist parties. “If the government is from the right, then it is center-right; if the government is from the left, then it is center-left”, summarized the parliamentarian in an exclusive interview with Gazeta do Povo, granted in 2021 , shortly after assuming the position of leader. Although he currently works for the Bolsonaro government, Barros was once Temer’s minister and deputy leader of the Dilma and Lula governments.

Thus, due to the coalitions, projects with strong ideological content tend to go through a process of moderation, generated from the need to find the possible consensus between the original idea and what is acceptable by the centrist parties. It is during this process that sacrifices become necessary and some guidelines are difficult to build of consensus, but dear to the ideologically more demanding voter, end up being abandoned.

However, if on the one hand the coalition presidentialism tends to protect the country from extremism, the permanent dependence on the government – whether he whatever – of political forces more physiological than id eological, is also seen as responsible for stopping many advances that the country needs, such as structural reforms, privatizations and more rigor in the fight against corruption. In addition, the supposed vacuum left by Congress on issues on which consensus is not reached has been used as a justification for the practice of judicial activism, with invasions of jurisdiction by the Judiciary over the Legislative Branch, as in the case of criminalization of homophobia, which was equated with the crime of racism by the Federal Supreme Court, and the authorization for the abortion of anencephalic people.

As it is, as a rule, the initiating house of the legislative process and shelter 513 parliamentarians, the Chamber of Deputies has a much higher production of proposals than the Senate. In 2021 alone, 4.246 legislative proposals were presented, including bills, constitutional amendment proposals, among other types, but the number of subjects approved in plenary was only 246, most of them created in previous years. Other 101 proposals had conclusive processing in the Constitution and Justice Commission (CCJ), so they did not need a vote in plenary.

As for rejections, they were 101. This, by the way, tends to be a less common result, as it only occurs when there is real uncertainty about the result of the vote or when the most influential political forces in the house want to send a message to the government. Normally, bills that will evidently be rejected tend not to even enter the agenda.

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