Brazilian history from 1985 to the present, also known as the Sixth Brazilian Republic or New Republic, is the contemporary epoch in the history of Brazil, beginning when civilian government was restored after a 21-year-long military regime established after the 1964 coup d’état. The negotiated transition to democracy reached its climax with the indirect election of Tancredo NevesPMDB by Congress. Neves belonged to Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, an opposition party that had always opposed the military regime. He was the first civilian president to be elected since 1964.
Neves was set to take over from General João Figueiredo, the last of the military junta presidents appointed by their predecessor. The transition was hailed as the dawn of a New Republic (Nova República) in contrast with República Velha (Old Republic), the first epoch of the Brazilian Republic, from 1889 until 1930. It became synonymous with the contemporary phase of the Brazilian Republic and the political institutions established in the wake of the country’s re-democratization.
President-electTancredo Neves fell ill on the eve of his inauguration and could not attend it. His running mate, José Sarney, was inaugurated as vice president and served in Neves’ stead as acting president. As Neves died without having ever taken the oath of office, Sarney then succeeded to the presidency. The first phase of the Brazilian New Republic, ranging from the inauguration of José Sarney in 1985 until the inauguration of Fernando Collor in 1990, is often considered a transitional period as the 1967–1969 constitution remained in effect, the executive still had veto powers, and the president was able to rule by decree. The transition was considered definitive after Brazil’s current constitution, drawn up in 1988, entered full effect in 1990.
In 1986, elections were called for a National Constituent Assembly that would draft and adopt a new Constitution for the country. The Constituent Assembly began deliberations in February 1987 and concluded its work on October 5, 1988. Brazil’s current Constitution was promulgated in 1988 and completed the democratic institutions. The new Constitution replaced the authoritarian legislation that still remained from the military regime.
In 1989 Brazil held its first elections for president by direct popular ballot since the 1964 coup. Fernando Collor won the election and was inaugurated on March 15, 1990 as the first president elected under the 1988 Constitution.
Since then, seven presidential terms have elapsed, without rupture to the constitutional order:
- the first term was served by Presidents Collor and Franco. Collor was impeached on charges of corruption in 1992 and resigned the presidency, being succeeded by Itamar Franco, his vice president
- the second and third terms corresponded to the Fernando Henrique Cardoso‘s administration, from 1995 to 2002;
- in the fourth and fifth presidential terms Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva served as President;
- the sixth term was Dilma Rousseff‘s first administration.
- the seventh term was started following Rousseff’s 2014 reelection. Her second term was due to end in 2018, but she was impeached for violations of budgetary and fiscal responsibility laws in 2016. Her vice-president, Michel Temer, succeeded her on 31 August 2016 following a lengthy period as acting president during Rousseff’s impeachment trials and eventually became President himself after the impeachment was completed.
- the eight and current term is Jair Bolsonaro‘s administration.
The last military president, João Figueiredo signed a general amnesty into law and turned Geisel’s distensão into a gradual abertura (the “opening” of the political system), saying he wanted “to make this country a democracy”.
The transition towards democracy that ended the military regime in 1985 and spurred the adoption of a new, democratic, Constitution in 1988, was, however, troubled.
Hard-liners reacted to the abertura with a series of terrorist bombings. In April 1981 after a long string of bombings and other violence a bomb went off prematurely and killed one of the men in the car with it and badly injured the other. They were shown to be working with the DOI-CODI “under the direct orders of the “Command of the First Army“ in terrorism, but nobody was punished. The incident and the regime’s inaction strengthened the public’s resolve to end military rule. Moreover, Figueiredo faced other significant problems, such as soaring inflation, declining productivity, and mounting foreign debt.
Political liberalization and the declining world economy contributed to Brazil’s economic and social problems. In 1978 and 1980, huge strikes took place in the industrial ring around São Paulo. Protesters asserted that wage increases indexed to the inflation rate were far below an acceptable standard of living. Union leaders, including the future three-time presidential candidate and president Luís Inácio da Silva, were arrested for violating national security laws. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a painful austerity program on Brazil. Under that program, Brazil was required to hold down wages to fight inflation. In the north, northeast, and even in the relatively prosperous Rio Grande do Sul, impoverished rural people occupied unused private land, forcing the government to create a new land reform ministry. Tension with the Roman Catholic Church, the major voice for societal change, peaked in the early 1980s with the expulsion of foreign priests involved in political and land reform issues.
To attack the soaring debt, Figueiredo’s administration stressed exports — food, natural resources, automobiles, arms, clothing, shoes, even electricity — and expanded petroleum exploration by foreign companies. In foreign relations, the objective was to establish ties with any country that would contribute to Brazilian economic development. Washington was kept at a certain distance, and the North-South dialogue was emphasized.
In 1983, the economy floundered as the gross domestic product declined by 5.0%, the impact of which was accelerated by rising inflation and the failure of political leadership. Figueiredo’s heart condition led to bypass surgery in the United States, removing him from control of the situation. In an impressive display, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in all the major cities demanding a direct vote (Diretas Já!) in the choice of the next president. In April 1984, Congress failed to achieve the necessary numbers to give the people their wish, and the choice was left to an electoral college. Figueiredo did not act forcefully to back a preference, so it became a scramble as candidates pursued the collegial votes.