As the Senate inaugurated its new legislature on Sunday (Feb. 1st), the incumbent pro-tempore Senate president, Renan Calheiros, of government-allied party PMDB, was again appointed to preside over the Senate with
49 votes, for a further two-year term. Fellow party member Luiz Henrique contended separately and had 31 votes, including from opposition senators.
In his address to fellow senators, Calheiros said Senate decisions are meant to be collective rather than the result of more influential members overpowering the weaker ones.
In the Chamber of Deputies, the members contending to preside over the house were similarly from the governing coalition.
With a more independent profile, Deputy Eduardo Cunha (PMDB) was elected with 267 votes. Exceeding the minimum required half of the vote plus one vote, he defeated Arlindo Chinaglia (PT), chosen by 136 fellow deputies, in a single round of voting. Other candidates were the opposition’s Júlio Delgado (PSB), who had 100 votes, and Chico Alencar (PSOL), with 8 votes.
Cunha promised to work actively to ensure the parliament stays independent, self-assertive, and represents the best interests of the population. He criticized the submissiveness of Congress members in a number of matters and promised to pursue a more independent approach.
The appointment of the new Congress presidents follows the beginning of a new legislature (2015-2018) with the inauguration of 513 deputies and 27 senators – one-third of the total 81 senators, with elected senators serving eight years (the length of two legislatures), whereas deputies serve only four-year terms.
President Dilma Rousseff still relies on a majority of supporting parties and congress members as its governing coalition, but the opposition should become stronger with the new congressional makeup.
The ruling party, PT, lost one seat in the Senate going from 13 to 12 senators. PMDB, the party with the majority of the seats, retained its count of 19 senators.
But with some minor parties gaining space, the existing balance of power in the Senate is certain to change. PSDB, the main opposition party, retained its position as the third party with the largest number of seats, but shrunk from 12 to ten senators. However, it again relies on such contentious names as Tasso Jereissati, former governor of Ceará.
Another boost to the opposition is Democratas (DEM), whose presence in the Senate had been shrinking in recent years, but now has started to grow again going from four to five senators. This number includes the former party leader at Senate, Ronaldo Caiado, who is known to lead the caucus representing the interests of agribusiness, farmers and ranchers in Congress.
PSB is also regaining a stronger presence going from four to seven senators. It cut off government loyalty last year to launch its own presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, eventually killed in a plane crash and replaced by Marina Silva. The party has not yet decided whether to join the opposition or go its own way.
Some of the allied parties have also increased their presence. This is the case with PDT, which jumped from six to eight senators, and PSD, which tripled its previous single seat. PR and PP have kept stable with four and five senators respectively.
In the Chamber of Deputies, 40% of the seats are new members, and the number of parties with seats in the house rose from 22 to 28. Analysts believe this will add complexity to the government coordination.
Regarding the two major parties, the ruling PT retains a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies with 70 members, but it did lose seats from its previous 88. PMDB also transitioned legislatures with a narrower 66 members from a previous 71, but still remains the second largest representation at the house. As for the opposition, PSDB increased its roster from 44 to 54 deputies.
Out of the total 513 elected deputies, 198 are new at the house.
The number of congresswomen has grown slightly from 45 to 51 women, but that still falls slightly below 10% of the total number of deputies. In the Senate, five women candidates were elected – two re-elections and three first-time senators.
Translated by Mayra Borges