Brazil’s First Referendum Ever Is Blow to Oligarchy

Brazil ballot box with question about sales of gunsThe holding of the first referendum in the country’s history, on the sale of firearms and ammunition in Brazil, represents an "official acknowledgment" of popular sovereignty. This is the assessment made by the jurist Fábio Konder Comparato, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of São Paulo (USP).

"Two plebiscites have already been held in the country, but there was never a referendum, and this represents an official acknowledgment that the population is an active sovereign, rather than a mere spectator of political life. The matters that basically have to do with the lives of all of us and the future of the Brazilian nation cannot be decided by government leaders alone. They must be decided by the people themselves," Comparato contends.

The jurist is one of the authors of the National Campaign in Defense of the Republic and Democracy, launched by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) in Rio de Janeiro on November 15, 2004.

One of the points that the campaign defends is approval of a bill to expand the possibility of convoking plebiscites, referenda, and popular initiatives, all of which currently depend upon the National Congress.

"In article 14, the Constitution declares that electoral suffrage, the plebiscite, the referendum, and the popular initiative are expressions of popular sovereignty, on an equal footing. But our political oligarchy interprets this article in the following manner:

"Only the National Congress is entitled to decide on holding plebiscites or referenda. This means that tomorrow the National Congress can also claim that there will only be elections in the country when it so chooses," Comparato remarks.

According to the jurist, the holding of the referendum runs counter to the interests not only of the political oligarchy but of the economic and administrative elites as well.

"What in fact worries the ruling oligarchy is not the prohibition of firearm and ammunition sales but the fact that, for the first time, the people are being summoned to vote on a law, and people thus start to realize that they are sovereign and that their sovereignty was usurped," he says. "This constitutes a mortal blow to the oligarchy," he goes on to observe.

In Comparato’s view, consulting the population also has a didactic function. "As the debate expands, the population begins to become familiar with the entire extension of the problem, and that is the didactic function of referenda and plebiscites."

With regard to the free announcements aired on the radio and television by the two parliamentary fronts, "For a Brazil Without Weapons" and "For the Right of Legitimate Self-Defense," the jurist says that "it is impossible to prevent the arguments from being fallacious, but there is control precisely in the exchange between opposing points of view."

Agência Brasil

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