Brazil’s New Congress

By Fernando Haddad, Isadora Amaral, Paulo Speroni, and Tiago Ciarallo,  Editors and Writers of Brazil Talk

[6 min read]

On October 7th, the 2018 General Elections took place in Brazil and 117 million voters elected their legislative and executive representatives at the state and national levels. This descriptive analysis developed by the Brazil Talk team seeks to show who are the legislators and the parties that will govern the country with the future president, who will be elected in the second round on October 28th.
The electoral results for Congress mark the highest renovation since 1990 due to low levels of reelection as well as an increase in the number of parties represented in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although renewed in its composition, the new Congress will have a more conservative profile due to the rise of military, religious, ruralists and other segments identified with a conservative agenda and that can influence the legislative process. Despite the fact that results suggest some similar trends in both institutions, the elections had distinct impacts on the composition of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Senate

The Senate had the highest renovation of its history with 54 of the new vacancies occupied by 46 new members and only eight seats occupied by re-elected senators. In addition to new members, the Senate also became younger. In the 2014 elections, only 5 out of 27 senators (18,5%) elected were less than 50 years old, while in 2018, 17 out of the 54 seats (31,5%) will be occupied by younger representatives. However, this renewal did not take place in the context of equal gender representation among senators, where a majority of 68 men (84%) remained against only 13 women (16%).
Furthermore, the three most traditional parties suffered the highest losses. The biggest party of the center, MDB lost six seats and had its previous caucus of 18 senators reduced to 12. Among the right-wing parties, PSDB lost four seats representing a reduction from 12 to 8 senators. The biggest party on the left, the Worker’s Party (PT) of presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, lost three seats, falling from 9 to 6 senators. Therefore, all three of them lost one-third of their Senators. These significant losses seem to be a consequence of the discrediting of these parties after a series of corruption scandals came to light, in the orbit of the Car Wash Operation, and a severe economic crisis.
This anti-establishment feeling can also reveal reasons for the rise of two specific parties. The Liberal Social Party (PSL), the conservative far-right party of presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, focused its campaign on renovating politics with an assertive speech against corruption. REDE, a center-left party created by Marina Silva, also brought to the campaign a narrative of renewal of the political system. Thus, the party raised votes from people dissatisfied with the current politicians and willing to vote for candidates with no corruption charges and political outsiders. Since the Senate represents the States, with each state electing three senators, the magnitude of its renewal suggests that the anti-establishment feeling is geographically extended to the majority of the twenty-six Brazilian states.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives also experienced an increase in the number of parties with political representation, from 25 to 30, its historical record. Reelection also had its lowest rate in history. Thus, less than half (240 of 513) of the previous legislators were re-elected. Furthermore, PSL emerged as the clear winner of these Congressional elections, growing from one seat to 52. Even though PT still remains with the biggest caucus in the House with 56 members, it lost 13 seats, keeping a small advantage of only four seats ahead of PSL. It is worth highlighting that the MDB and PSDB, former second and fourth parties on the House, are now only fourth and ninth. This impressive loss of representation from these two traditional parties expresses an important weakening from the center and moderate right and, a strong surge of the far-right.

Gráfico - Composição do Congresso.pngSource: Adapted from Observatório das Eleições

In addition to changes in the composition of parties, there was also a diversification in demographic representation. Considering that the House of Representatives is the House of the People, the population that felt underrepresented showed a desire to see themselves depicted in their elected officials. Hence, more women, black and indigenous people were elected. The number of black representatives increased from 20% to 24%. The number of female representatives went from 51 to 77, but will still represent only 15% of the House. Joênia Wapichana (REDE) was the first indigenous congresswoman elected and Felipe Rigoni (PSB) will be the first blind person to occupy a seat in the House.
Another crucial factor that impacts the political dynamics of the new House of Representatives will be the Barrier Clause. Approved in 2017 by Congress, the clause states that only parties that achieve at least 1.5% of the votes for the House, in at least nine States of the Union, will be granted resources from the Federal Parties Fund and shall be given a free slot of time on national TV and radio. This regimental rule aims to reduce the number of parties, allowing an easier construction of coalitions and, thus, increasing governability. Consequently, the results suggest that this institutional device will have a great impact on the political landscape of Brazil. Among all 35 registered parties, 30 will be represented in the next term of the House, however, only 21 received enough votes to overcome the barrier. The scenario is unpredictable since, without financial resources from the Federal Fund, those parties tend to be absorbed by bigger players in Congress considering that party transference is permitted. Albeit not passing the barrier clause, nine parties have gained seats in these elections, which means that their congressmen might switch to bigger parties with an eye on the next electoral cycle.
Due to a high party fragmentation and a presidential second round representing two opposite government platforms, coalition arrangements are yet to be defined. According to numbers in projection scenarios made by the public affairs company, Arko Advice, in case of a PT victory, Fernando Haddad would have an easier path of governability in Congress. Haddad’s willingness and centrist skewness allow him to congregate more independent congressmen. While this would not grant Haddad the majority of 302 seats needed to push for reforms, it does put him in a better position to govern compared to Bolsonaro.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 21.25.33.pngSource: Arko Advice


The anti-establishment sentiment that grew steadily among the Brazilians over the past years shaped voting preferences towards political renovation. Thus, both Houses experienced significant changes in their compositions and reinforced the conservative agenda. For instance, the supra partisan lobby caucuses that are traditionally more conservative – agribusiness, evangelical and public security also known as BBB (beef, bible, and bullet) – accrued more influence after these elections.
Even though more conservative, the new political environment does not automatically guarantee to the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro a straightforward control over both Houses. Actually, due to more centrist and flexible approach, Fernando Haddad appears on the projections as the candidate with higher potential of governability.
Amidst political uncertainty, it is safe to say that this significant renovation does not alter the role of the Congress and the dynamics between legislative and executive powers. Therefore, whoever takes the presidential chair will have to face the challenges of making compromises and concessions to gain the majority of Congress, as well as previous presidents.

Other Sources:

Braga, Fernanda. Novidades na Nova Bancada do Senado. PDF

Political Secnarios. October 2018. Arko Advice. PDF

Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE).

Relatório Final DIAP. Novo Congresso em Números.

Image Credit: Ruy Barbosa Pinto