On April 25,1984, thousands of demonstrators poured into the Esplanada dos
Ministérios in Brasília demanding direct elections for president.
Even though the police were out in force, the crowd took up positions everywhere.
There were people on the
broad avenues and on the vast green lawns that lead to the heart of political
power in Brazil: the Plaza of the Three Powers (where the Brazilian Congress,
White House (Palácio do Planalto) and Supreme Court are all located).
The Brasília demonstration
followed on the heels of gigantic protests all over the country. Between January
12 and April 16, over thirty demonstrations took place. In Rio de Janeiro,
around 300,000 people protested in favor of direct elections on April 10,
and in São Paulo, there were over one million protestors at a mass
rally on April 16.
On April 25, 1984, the
President of Brazil was general João Baptista Figueiredo and the country
was still being governed by a military dictatorship, twenty years after they
had taken over the government back in 1964 by overthrowing the João
In Congress, on April
25, 1984, a bill for direct elections for president was up for a vote (the
bill was a constitutional amendment authored by Dante de Oliveira from Mato
Grosso do Sul's MDB party (Movimento Democrático BrasileiroBrazilian
Democratic Movement). On the floor, rounding up votes for the amendment, was
the man known as Mr. Direct Elections, deputy Ulysses Guimarães from
São Paulo's MDB.
Appropriately, he was
wearing a yellow tieyellow was the color of the "direct-election
movement." In a speech to the Chamber of Deputies, Guimarães was
interrupted no less than 23 times by applause. Outside, all over Brasília,
people were honking car horns in favor of direct elections.
"The fatherland is
the people and the people will prevail. It may not be today. It may not be
tomorrow. But they will prevail. That is inevitable and it will not take long,"
In the early morning hours
of April 26, 1984, after 17 hours of rancorous debate, the constitutional
amendment for direct elections went to a vote. A total of 320 votes were necessary
to approve it. The final vote was 298 in favor, 65 against. The amendment
had failed by 22 votes.
Outside the Congress,
a surreal scene: riding a white horse, the military commander of Brasilia,
general Newton Cruz, used his riding whip on cars that were blowing their
horns in favor of direct elections and threatened to arrest everybody wearing
The defeat of the Dante
de Oliveira amendment by such a small margin of votes created an enormous
feeling of disappointment nationwide, but it also carried in it a small taste
of almost-victory that spurred the opposition to carry on its struggle.
That struggle was largely
led by Ulysses Guimarães and a young labor leader, Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva. Their struggle resulted in the victory of the opposition in
the indirect elections for president in January 1985. Tancredo Neves, a former
governor of Minas Gerais, defeated the military's candidate, Paulo Maluf.
But tragedy was to strike
before Tancredo Neves could take office. On the eve of his inauguration, March
15, 1985, the president elect underwent emergency surgery. His health was
failing. He was transported to a hospital in São Paulo where he died
on April 21.
His vice president, José
Sarney (today he is president of the Congress and a senator from Amapá),
became the President of Brazil, the last of the presidents to be elected indirectly.
During Sarney's term of office, a new constitution, the Constitution of 1988,
went into effect. The new constitution consolidates Brazil's democracy, rescuing
it from the dictatorship. The new constitution calls for direct elections.
And so, finally, five
years after April 25, 1984, in 1989, Brazil had its first direct elections
for president in almost 30 years (the last direct elections had been won by
Jânio Quadros in 1960. Quadros was succeeded by his vice president,
João Goulart, when he resigned in August 1961).
Deigma Turazi works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency
of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
by David Silberstein