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The Future of Brazil’s Democracy Is in the Hands of the Citinauts

Computer surfer Since 1986, former Planning Minister João Paulo dos Reis Velloso has assembled a group of people in the National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) to debate themes of national importance. In May, the National Forum held its 22nd session.

Bringing thinkers together for 22 years is an accomplishment. Debating in an open, unprejudiced manner – hearing all the ideas – is one merit of the National Forum. Filling the void of ideas and proposals characterizing present-day Brazil is an even greater merit.

In May, the Forum brought together people from diverse backgrounds to debate forms of strengthening the country’s political institutions. One of the round-table discussions focused upon congressional modernization.

During that discussion someone observed that, from the technological point of view, Brazil has the world’s most modern congress. It has radio, TV, network computers, a comfortable building, a newspaper, competent professionals.

Another observation was that, from the electoral, political and ethical points of view, the Congress is in need of modernization. The debate offered the following concrete suggestions for this:

* Prohibition of more than one consecutive reelection;

* Reduction of the senatorial term length;

* Possibility of candidacy independent of political parties;

* Online publication of all expenses incurred in exercising the mandate;

* Holding congressional plenary sessions each weekday for three weeks, reserving one week per month for visits to voter bases;

* Loss of mandate for congressional members nominated for executive-branch posts;

* Creation of a permanent commission of inquiry and of special provisional commissions to confront the great national problems;

* Obligatory mandate completion for mayors, governors and presidents until the end of their terms, thus impeding their candidacy in elections for the following period;

* Declaration of “party moratorium” for six months to permit political parties to reorganize for greater identity;

* Electoral campaigns financed only with public funds;

* Free electoral TV program limited to speeches by candidates;

* Characterization as breach of decorum the use of private health and education services by members of Congress and their families;

* Submission of all the officeholders’ declarations to the “fine-tooth comb” of the Receita Federal, the federal tax service;

* Prohibition of electoral alliances for executive posts in the first round of voting;

* Separation of the federal elections from the state elections;

* Replacement of the title of “Deputy” with that of “Representative of the Voter.”

The great modernization of Congress, however, will be its understanding and approval of – as well as its attention to – the possibilities of interaction with the “virtual town hall” where the population “gathers” by means of e-mails, Twitter, blogs, etc.

The May congressional vote for the Ficha Limpa [Clean Record] Law banning candidates with criminal records was a victory for ethics in politics. Even greater was the example of how the direct power of the people has today succeeded in reaching, pressuring, and influencing the members of Congress.

Millions of signatures and tens of millions of messages impelled the Congress to reach a decision in accordance with what the population wanted and not merely in accordance with the desires and fears of the members of Congress themselves. For months, Brazil was in the virtual streets and town halls.

The great modernization of congressional activity utilizes modern media and information technology to make the decisions that the country needs, without relinquishing the deliberation that the Congress permits.

Obviously, this modernization calls for an educational revolution that will incorporate the entire population into access to the communication media. While democracy assures, and even obliges, everyone’s access to the ballot box, the new participatory democracy demands that everyone have access to information technology equipment, possessing as well as knowing how to use it.

The educational revolution, therefore, is the key to political modernization. Until it occurs, however, the Congress must open itself up to contact with the “citinauts” – citizen internauts.

Above all, the Congress must define policies that increase the ranks of these new citizens, and it must open itself to the matters that concern them. The “citinaut” Ficha Limpa victory must be broadened for all Brazilians and for all matters concerning Brazil.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

New translations of his works of fiction The Subterranean Gods and Astricia are available on Amazon.com.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).

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