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Cablegate: Court Rulings Limit Party Switching by Elected Officials

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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS BRASILIA 002258

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KCOR BR
SUBJECT: Court Rulings Limit Party Switching by Elected Officials

REF: BRASILIA 1670

1. Summary. Recent federal court rulings have placed strict limits
on party switching that are expected to strengthen large parties and
could weaken traditional spoils politics. The rulings are a victory
for large parties and a loss for smaller, non-ideological parties in
the government coalition. End summary.

2. The Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) decided in October that
elective offices belong to the political parties, not the office
holder, which should end the common practice of party switching for
personal or political gain. These decisions follow an earlier
decision in March which broadly interpreted existing law as
generally forbidding party switching but did not define specifics
such as who owns the elective office or when politicians may change
parties without penalty.

3. The STF upheld on October 4 a decision by the Superior Electoral
Court (TSE) last March 27 that the offices of city councilman and
federal and state deputy belong to the party, not the individual.
On October 16 the TSE extended its ruling to include senators,
mayors, governors, and the president. The STF ruling meant that
federal deputies who switched parties after March 27 could lose
their jobs and be replaced by their alternates if the losing party
pursued action in the TSE. With the expanded ruling on October 16,
a few senators who switched parties after October 16 could lose
their seats. On October 30 the TSE gave parties until November 29
to demand the seats back. Over half of Brazil's 28 registered
parties filed in federal and regional electoral courts for hundreds
of lost seats ranging from the federal senate to city councils.

4. The decision had broad support in some of the larger parties in
Congress such as the Brazilian democratic Movement Party (PMDB, a
large, non-ideological party in the government coalition), Democrats
(DEM, a large opposition party), and the Workers' Party (PT, lead
party in the government coalition). The Brazilian Social Democracy
Party (PSDB, a large opposition party) did not take a position,
since it had neither a net loss nor gain in this legislature.
Parties that did not welcome the decision were small and
medium-sized parties in the government coalition, such as the Party
of the Republic (PR, a medium-sized, non-ideological, government
coalition party), Party of the Nation's Retirees (PAN, a small,
ideologically weak government coalition party), and the Brazilian
Labor Party (PTB, a medium-sized, ideologically weak, government
coalition party). The PR, for example, had grown from about 26 to
40 federal deputies since last February, while the Socialist
People's Party (PPS, a small, leftist opposition party) shrank from
26 to 13 federal deputies.

5. Comment: The courts have once again decided an issue that
congress had failed to address. Party fidelity was part of a
political reform package the congress was to have considered earlier
this year, but did not because of a lack of consensus. The impact
of the new party fidelity rules will be in October 2008 municipal
elections, and again in October 2010 presidential elections. With a
designated party switching season, the constant temptation to switch
parties for personal and political gain has been eliminated, and the
result should be a weakening of both the attractiveness and
political power of the non-ideological "rent-a-parties" that have
been associated with blatant spoils politics and past scandals such
as the mensalao, the monthly allowance congressional vote-buying
scheme revealed in 2005 (reftel).

SOBEL

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