Brazil's current Federal Constitution has been valid since 1988. This article will explain the main pillars of the Constituição, as well as how this document can possibly be modified.
The current Constitution, enacted in 1988, is the fundamental law in Brazil, known as Constituição Federal in Portuguese. This is the seventh Constitution in Brazil's history, and it is already the one with the most changes: up to this day, 77 constitutional amendments and 6 review amendments were made.
The 1988 Constitution is considered a milestone in Brazil's history, since it is the first one to grant several rights that were once privileges to few people. It is composed of 250 articles, which are divided under 9 titles.
The Brazilian Fundamental Principles are listed in the first four articles of the Constitution. They basically define the political, social and juridical bases of Brazil.
Brazil is defined as a Federal Presidential Republic, formed by Municipalities, States and the Federal District. It is a democratic rule-of-law State, divided into three powers: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. Brazil's objectives are listed as the construction of a free, fair and egalitarian society for any person.
The pillars of Constituição Federal are:
- Dignity of the individual
- Social values of labor and free enterprise
- Political pluralism
The Constitution highlights that Brazil has ten principles used by the country in its international relationships. They are:
- National independence
- Prevalence of the human rights
- Self-determination of peoples
- Equality among States
- Defense of the Peace
- Peaceful settlement of conflicts
- Repudiation to terrorism and racism
- Cooperation between peoples to the progress of the mankind
- Granting political asylum
Important changes were introduced with the 1988 Constitution. One of the most relevant refers to voting rights and elections. The Constituição allows illiterates to vote, as well as Brazilians of 16 and 17 years of age.
It also brought working rights, like the weekly limit of 44 working hours, obligatory unemployment insurance, and remunerated vacations, for example.
Changes in the Brazilian tax system were also made, many economic areas were regulated, and liberty of expression for citizens and for journalists is now granted.
How Changes Are Made
Constitutions might need changes or updates periodically according to the current country's scenario. In Brazil, this changes happen when a Proposta de Emenda Constitucional (PEC), or Proposal of Constitutional Amendment, is approved.
In Brazil, a proposal of constitutional amendment can be proposed only by:
- The President
- One third of the members of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) or of the Senado Federal (Senate)
- More than half of the Assembleias Legislativas (Legislative Assemblies) of the country
Citizens cannot directly propose amendments, but they can ask political representatives to do so, which happens quite often.
There are various steps between the proposal of a constitutional amendment and its approval. Oversimplifying, the needed steps are schemed below.
- Acceptance of the proposal by the Chamber of Deputies' Commission of Justice
- Approval by a special commission, created by the president of the Commission of Justice
- Approval by the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies, in two voting turns, where at least ⅗ of approval must be reached
- Approval by the Senate's Commission of Justice
- Approval by the plenary of the Senate, in two voting turns, where at least ⅗ of approval must be reached
- The PEC is then enacted
However, changes in the amendment text are frequent, which means the PEC travels back and forth to different commissions and plenaries.
What Cannot Be Changed
Some principles of the Federal Constitution cannot be changed. They are named Cláusulas Pétrias, or Eternity Clauses. They are:
- Federal form of government
- Direct, secret, universal, and periodic vote
- Separation of powers
- Individual rights and guarantees
Also, the Constitution cannot be altered during State of Emergency situations.
Several points of the current Constitution are subjects of discussions between politicians and society. Also, there are various debates about the fact that, in many cases, the rights granted by the Constitution are not respected.
One of the most famous controversies, which has been discussed quite intensively recently, is the right of freedom of speech. The Constitution bans any kind of censorship, but there are cases where this is not granted. For example, unauthorized biographies are frequently prohibited from being sold, if the subject of the book does not agree with the content written.
Also, Brazil is legally a secular state, but many critics point out that this does not happen practically. They mention that many government buildings are decorated with religious icons, and that the Constitution itself is "enacted under the protection of God", according to the introductory text.
There are many other controversies involving the proposal of amendments. While some sectors defend it, others claim that the PEC itself goes against the current Constitution. Some examples are PEC 37, that would limit the investigation powers of Ministério Público (Public Prosecutor's Office), and PEC 33, that was polemical and started arguments between the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.