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COHA Research Publication Notice: Public Policy and Presidentialism in Brazil

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A special issue of the journal Policy Studies guest edited by COHA Senior Research Fellow Dr. Sean W. Burges and Australian Centre for Federalism Director, Dr. Tracy Beck Fenwick.

By Dr. Sean BurgesSenior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) is pleased to announce the release of a special issue of the scholarly journal Policy Studies jointly guest edited by COHA Senior Research Fellow Dr. Sean W Burges and Dr. Tracy Beck Fenwick, director of the Australian Centre for Federalism at the Australian National University.

The primary referent for the special issue is a direct comparison between the two recent Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT – Workers’ Party) presidencies of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-present) presidencies across a series of major policy areas and institutional relationships, which in several cases is extended to encompass presidencies dating as far back as Fernando Collor (1990-1992). The comparison deepens the understanding of presidential power and influence as well as the Brazilian presidency because many of the features of the Lula regime were carried through to Dilma’s. For Dilma this sense of continuity was a requirement. The 2010 presidential ballot was her first electoral contest and she entered it with minimal public recognition and less political charisma. The consensus is that she won because Lula leveraged his enormous personal popularity to ‘appoint’ Dilma, continuously proclaiming her his heir and successor. Dilma consequently assumed the presidency with a personal and political debt to Lula and his PT machine. The result was that many ministers and officials from the Lula era were retained as holdovers and the general track of policy direction maintained. Yet Dilma’s presidency proved remarkably different than Lula’s, particularly in how the president interacted with important ministers and institutions to pursue policy, and how willing she was to compromise. The Brazilian example consequently provides an excellent temporal comparative case for building theoretical propositions about the role of presidential power in public policy processes.

The question of presidential power in the public policy process is addressed from a series of social science perspectives – political science, political economy, international relations, sociology, public policy analysis – spread across a diverse range of cases. While strong in empirical content, the papers are not an exercise in analyzing specific policy questions, but rather an extended attempt to comparatively theorize the role of the president in the Brazilian public policy system on both a national and sub-national level by applying an overarching framework to a series of diverse cases. Contributions to the special issue will be framed by an overarching conceptual piece on the presidential role in policy making which can be applied beyond the Brazilian case to other presidential regimes, including the United States. As Fenwick, Burges and the University of Oxford’s Timothy Power argue, there are five ‘faces’ to the presidency: face to the general public; face to the bureaucracy; face to the subnational executives; face to congressional coalitions; and face to the outside world. The importance of each of these faces varies across different policy areas, each of which bring their own shifting dynamics of contending local, national, and international pressures.

The five policy area article authors and subjects are as follows:

Tracy Beck Fenwick (Australian National University), “Presidents and policy-making: has Brazil’s CCT-led anti-poverty agenda gone far enough?” []

Leslie Elliott Armijo (Simon Fraser University) and Sybil D. Rhodes (Universidad del CEMA, Argentina), “Explaining infrastructure underperformance in Brazil: cash, political institutions, corruption, and policy Gestalts.” []

Fiona Macaulay (University of Bradford), “Presidents, producers and politics: law-and-order policy in Brazil from Cardoso to Dilma.” []

Katrhyn Hochstetler (London School of Economics), “Tracking presidents and policies: environmental politics from Lula to Dilma.” []

Sean W. Burges (COHA and Australian National University) and Fabrício Chagas Bastos (Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá), “The importance of presidential leadership for Brazilian foreign policy.” []

If you would like a copy of any of the papers included in the special issue please send us a request specifying which article you would like and with the email address where you wish it sent.

The abstracts of the papers are as follows:

Tracy Beck Fenwick, Sean W Burges, and Timothy J. Power, “Five faces of presidential governance: insights from policy-making in democratic Brazil.”
By drawing on the five Brazilian case studies presented in this special issue, we propose five ‘faces’ of presidentialism as a guide for examining the role of president in the public policy process: face to the general public; face to the bureaucracy; face to the subnational executives; face to congressional coalitions; and face to the outside world. How effectively the president succeeds in formulating and implementing their public policy priorities depends on their ability to execute the roles of each of these faces. A president’s ability to successfully pursue their policy agenda is both constrained and facilitated by exogenous factors that impact the amount of attention, authority, and engagement that they are able to exert across the five faces they wear in the public policy process.

Tracy Beck Fenwick, “Presidents and policy-making: has Brazil’s CCT-led anti-poverty agenda gone far enough?”
In order to identify the causal mechanisms (rational learning, adaptation, and innovation) driving changes in the area of anti-poverty policy in Brazil, this article traces the micro-level decision-making processes across three presidents. It begins by laying out the politics of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in Brazil and presidential usage of this targeted social policy instrument since the 1990s. In contrast to previous presidents, President Dilma Rousseff’s decisions did not enable her rationally intended policy agenda. Why? The President him or herself is privileged as the central actor whose decision-making processes impact policy development and its subsequent performance. I will argue that prior to the most recent changes under Dilma, was the demise of CCTs being ‘good enough’ from a policy perspective. The major challenge for any president in Brazil remains low levels of political and societal consensus over the kind of social reforms required to end the intergenerational transmission of poverty in Brazil; a policy dilemma confounded by the absence of a single unifying institutional actor and the extent of power diffusion in Brazilian federalism.

Leslie Elliott Armijo and Sybil D. Rhodes “Explaining infrastructure underperformance in Brazil: cash, political institutions, corruption, and policy Gestalts.”
Brazil’s infrastructure underperforms compared to that of peer emerging economies. Why? The political institutions of coalitional presidentialism with strong federalism undermine rational national planning. Politicians’ incentives to distribute ‘pork’ combine with sector-specific oligopoly characteristics, offering fertile ground for corruption. Yet the greatest challenge is low infrastructure investment, a consequence of weak private capital markets and regulatory inconsistency. Recent center-right governments improved infrastructure service delivery without stimulating investment, while center-left governments raised investment, but undermined public finances and efficiency. Greater technocratic consensus across the partisan divide on reforms to stimulate investment is one positive consequence of Brazil’s current crisis.

Fiona Macaulay, “Presidents, producers and politics: law-and-order policy in Brazil from Cardoso to Dilma.”
This article analyses the governance tools available to three Brazilian presidents – Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff – to direct and enact policy in the area of law-and-order, that is, to prevent crime, improve policing and develop effective penal responses. It examines the commonalities and the differences in the ways that each approached their key roles as president: communicating with the public on the issues, using the agencies of the federal bureaucracy, managing intergovernmental relations with the subnational units (states and municipalities), and managing their multiparty coalition and relations with Congress. In particular, it highlights the way in which Brazil’s highly fragmented and porous party system, which underpins the country’s coalitional presidentialist form of governance, has also encouraged the entry into legislative arenas of direct representatives of criminal justice professionals (police) and indirect representatives of private security actors. This has resulted in increasing producer capture of law-and-order policy within both the federal bureaucracy and legislative arenas at all levels of government. In the crisis of the Dilma presidency, to which they contributed, they were able to move from being veto-players to agenda-setters on law-and-order policy, intent on reversing the direction set by these presidents.

Kathryn Hochstetler, “Tracking presidents and policies: environmental politics from Lula to Dilma.”
Does the Brazilian presidential system shape environmental policy there? The comparative literature on environmental policy offers few reasons to think that it might. Most explanations of variations in the quantity and quality of environmental regulation stress levels of economic development or move outside of the nation-state to examine international processes of diffusion and convergence. Other studies look at large macrostructural differences like the contrast between democratic and authoritarian systems and/or the role of non-state actors. This article examines environmental policies and outcomes in three successive presidential administrations in Brazil to develop hypotheses about whether institutional factors should gain a larger place in comparative studies of environmental policies and outcomes.

Sean W. Burges and Fabrício Chagas Bastos, “The importance of presidential leadership for Brazilian foreign policy.”
The conventional wisdom in Brazil is that foreign policy is a policy of state and, as such, not part of the daily political debate. The result is an understanding that foreign policy is largely driven by the foreign ministry, with the president generally only taking a role when needed to advance a particular initiative through presidential diplomacy. We challenge these assumptions, arguing that the engagement and authority of the president are the essential factors in bringing about not only substantive strategic change in Brazilian foreign policy, but also alterations in the policy process that have democratized foreign policy and moved it from a policy of state to another area of public policy. To do this, we draw on and deepen Sergio Danese’s theory of presidential diplomacy and map out major strategic changes in post-authoritarian Brazil’s foreign policy. We find that the major changes that have taken place were initiated by the truncated Fernando Collor presidency and then deepened and amplified by the highly internationally engaged presidencies of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula. By contrast, the presidencies of Itamar Franco and Dilma Rousseff emerge as instances of inertial continuity lacking in dynamism and innovation.

By Dr. Sean Burges, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs