[Editor’s Note: In this installment of I•CONnect’s Book Review Series,
Alicia Pastor y Camarasa reviews Eneida Desiree Salgado’s book “Reforma Política” (Editora Contracorrente 2018)
–Alicia Pastor y Camarasa, PhD candidate, Centre de recherche sur l’Etat et la Constitution (CRECO), University of Louvain (Belgium)
The demographics of Brazil’s parliament, overwhelmingly white and male, is at odds with its deeply diverse society. Improving the quality of representative democracy in Brazil through modifying the composition of the parliament has been a central project over the past two hundred years, largely occurring through both constitutional and legal reform. Eneida Desiree Salgado explores this topic in her book, Reforma Política. Throughout the text, Salgado undertakes a comprehensive legal analysis of reforms to political rights in Brazil – from the days of the Empire to the present – and explores the challenges that surround democratization. The central thesis of the text is that the fight for liberty in Brazil has always been exclusive, and that legal reforms have often in effect reduced the possibility of radically changing the power structures at play.[i]
The text is divided into four sections, with Part I focusing on electoral rights. The most important insight here is that Salgado illustrates that the new democratic order did not eliminate the inconsistent electoral rules that have pervaded in Brazil since the days of the Empire.[ii] The author unpacks how ‘technical’ legal changes have had severe political consequences. Part II examines several legal reforms concerning the ‘right to be elected’, and argues that despite operating under the ostensible banner of ‘progress’, these reforms excluded major parts of Brazil’s citizenry – namely, the illiterate and women.[iii] Salgado then turns to Brazil’s transition to democracy, and the many restrictions on the right to hold office, restrictions that were extended by the judiciary.[iv] She reveals how claims to fight corruption, which restricted the conditions to be eligible for office, have in recent years, served to reduce electoral competition. Part III is concerned with freedom of speech in electoral contexts, and explores how electoral campaign regulations have reduced the cost of political campaigning at the expense of under-serving the electorate – through limited publicity and engagement;[v] the result of this restricted campaigning has had an outsized impact on Brazil’s poorest sectors. Part IV discusses minority rights and electoral reforms, focusing on how Brazil’s particracy – which manifests through the financing of political parties – has had an extensive impact on the representation of women and non-white populations in the parliament.
Salgado proves in this essay that the devil lies in the details, and that we ought to reconsider the implicit linear conception of political rights that underpin our understanding of how to improve representative democratic institutions. Indeed, one of this essay’s particular strengths is the challenge it presents to a linear understanding of human rights’ progress; political rights are, more often than not, treated as a history of gains and victories. Salgado shows with great detail that electoral laws and constitutional amendments have served to disenfranchise significant swaths of the population, characterizing Brazil’s constitutional history as a history of “change to avoid change”.[vi] The reader comes to understand that the constitutional history of Brazil has been largely concerned with preserving the power of those who initially held it. Perhaps the most insightful aspect of Brazil’s constitutional history fort scholars studying other jurisdictions or undertaking comparative work, is the ongoing battle between the judiciary and the legislature regarding restrictions on the right to be elected.
Reading this essay, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to the contemporary political climate in Brazil, and the ongoing constitutional coup that has been unfolding, among other things, with the imprisonment of former president Lula da Silva. What is strikingly absent from this text is an engagement with this recent history, including the strategies undertaken by certain political actors that have shifted from legal to non-legal reform. Further, regarding the section on the right of minorities and marginalized sections of the population, Salgado applies the lens of gender, but not enough of race. In a country where more than half of the population considers itself ‘non-white’,[vii] the text could have benefited from a closer engagement with race-related exclusion, including a discussion of other minority groups, such as indigenous populations or quilombola.
Suggested Citation: Alicia Pastor y Camarasa, Review of Eneida Desiree Salgado’s book “Reforma Política”, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Oct. 2, 2019, at:
[i] Eneida Desiree Salgado, Reforma Política (Editora Contracorrente 2018), p. 12: “A busca por mais liberdades não era por mais liberdades para todos: tratava-se também de reduzir a possibilidade de alterações reais na estrutura de poder”.
[ii] Ibid., p. 19.
[iii] Ibid., p. 26-27.
[iv] Ibid., p. 30
[v] Ibid., p. 53.
[vi] Ibid., p. 7.