It is a pity this book was not written in 1993 or 1994, after the Brazilian Congress—partly by masterful manipulation of the media—rose up in collective ire, seized power and initiative, and impeached democratically elected President Fernando Collor de Melo; for, in his conclusions, the author sadly notes that in 1992, “the country was back in its pre-1964 coup status—a Congress splintered among a dozen political parties” and almost helpless (p. 208). Brazil and its governmental “system” defy definitive analysis and shrug off academicians’ generalities, not to mention models. An experienced researcher in the field of Third World legislative systems, Abdo Baaklini admits as much when he notes his surprise, after considerable study, that “the behavior of the Congress did not fit any of the roles identified in the literature” (p. 199). Brazil has always been a veritable minefield of contradictions.
Still, this study is valuable to Brazilianists, for in great detail it examines the true nuts and bolts of Brazil’s presidential system, as well as the legislature, under both liberal democracy and authoritarian regimes. Avoiding obfuscatory jargon (but relying too heavily on abbreviations and acronyms; thank goodness a list is appended), the author lays out the composition, characteristics, and, over time, the performance of congressional leadership, staffs, recruitment, informatics, budgets, committees and subcommittees, coalitions, and more. All this is buttressed by dozens of intelligible tables and graphs.
Especially valuable, and a bit surprising, is the book’s emphasis on how (relatively) effectively Congress coped under a military regime that sought to use it merely as window dressing. The author, however, excels in dismissive generalization, as when he notes that the Assessoria’s functions were expanded “and its budget and other resources were quadrupled” (p. 63). What other resources? Similarly, “the General Secretariat of the Mesa was strengthened and given access to important resources” (p. 61) Again, what resources? That problem duly noted, Baaklini has produced a useful work.