Demos-Constraining or Demos-Enabling Federalism? Political Institutions and Policy Change in Brazil

Marta Arretche


This research note shows the demos-enabling elements of the Brazilian federal state by examining the decision-making process of 59 legislative initiatives regarding the taxes, policies and expenditures of subnational units submitted to the Brazilian Congress between 1989 and 2006. The combination of two political institutions – the federal government’s broad powers to make decisions on subnational matters (right to decide) and the majority principle for approving changes in the federal status quo – empowers the center without diminishing the rights of subunits. It is not necessary to obtain supermajorities in numerous veto arenas in order to approve legislation aimed at providing national goods, and regional minorities have few opportunities for vetoing. The center is empowered, not weak.

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