A national campaign was launched this week in São Paulo in favor of a bill to enlarge the possibilities of holding plebiscites, referenda, and popular initiatives, which currently depend upon prior Congressional approval.
Bill 4718/2004, drafted by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), is intended to change the way Article 14 of the Federal Constitution is regulated. Article 14 is currently regulated by Law 9709/98, which subjects the institution of a public consultation to the decision of the National Congress.
The campaign for the approval of Bill 4718/2004 is being led by the Federal Council of the OAB, with the support of the National Council of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), and the central labor union, Union Force.
“Congress cannot restrict popular sovereignty,” argues Fábio Konder Comparato, law professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) Law School and one of the founders of the Permanent Campaign in Defense of the Republic and Democracy.
The president of the São Paulo chapter of the OAB, Luiz Flávio Borges D’Urso, observes that greater freedom to hold popular consultations would allow a broader discussion of controversial issues, such as reducing the age for adult treatment of criminals, authorizing transgenic foods, and restricting the bearing of weapons.
“Society, which is directly affected by these decisions, will have an active voice to express its opinion.” But the calling of plebiscites on certain issues is not a matter of consensus even among the organizations that are participating in the campaign.
According to Comparato, organizations such as the OAB and the CNBB believe that issues related to the preservation or sale of the national patrimony or those directly linked to customs, religion, and behavior, such as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual marriage, should not be decided directly by the population and must first be debated in the National Congress.
Bill 4718/2004 is awaiting the ruling of the Chamber of Deputies’ Constitution and Justice Commission. If approved, it will be placed directly on the agenda for a floor vote.