Who is protesting in Brazil?

The current developments in Brazil have caught all by surprise. Yearly increases in bus fares, notoriously bad public transportation, inflation and slow economic growth (weirdly combined with low unemployment rates) have been looming for some time now. The Free Fare Movement (MPL) has been actively voicing its demands for better public transportation since at least 2006 and other similar organizations and movements have also been mobilizing for better public services. In this context, therefore, it would not be accurate to state that the “the Giant is awake” on the streets (“o Gigante acordou”). Yet, it would also be cynical to say that the current mobilization is not unprecedented – at least since redemocratization.

The nature of the unfolding events, affected by almost daily incidents and bipolar swings in public opinion and in an editorialized media, makes it hard for most of us to answer simple questions: Who are these protesters? What do they want? Social media outlets, in particular Facebook, have been primary sources of information for protesters over the past few weeks. However, social media also works to bias our opinions on the basis of our own personal experiences and social groups: after all, birds of a feather tend to flock together, as research on social network has shown (McPherson, et. al, 2001).  In summary, it has been difficult to see the forest for the trees.

On Sunday, June 23rd, Ibope, a well-know survey company in Brazil, released the first (to my knowledge) systematic collection of data on the characteristics of the protesters. This data is illuminating and, importantly, allows us to answer further questions: how different are these protesters from the “average” Brazilian? Are these protesters different than those individuals who usually engage in politics?

The plots below show a comparison of the demographic profile of protesters and the broader Brazilian population. Protesters are much younger, and, as expected, students are over-represented compared to the population. Also, those who mobilize are clearly better off compared to the rest of the population: the discrepancies between income and education distributions of the protesters and the population are remarkable. For instance, about 10% of the population has a higher education degree, whereas about 43% of the protesters have at least a college degree.

age education



These differences might be due in part to the sampling process: Ibope surveyed protesters on Thursday, June 20th, a point at which the protests had already started to encompass a wider swath of society, distinct from the left-leaning individuals that mobilized early (who would be, presumably, less well-off than the protesters on June 20th).

There are other possible explanations: it is not uncommon for those who engage in political activity, in particular mass-based political action, to be better off than those who do not. This hypothesis has taken many shapes and forms and it is commonly referred to in political science literature as the socioeconomic status (SES) model and there has been systematic evidence supporting it in various places, including Brazil (Verba, 1995; Norris, 2002; Reis, 2000).  This model is known for not taking into account variation in mobilization over time, events that trigger mobilization, and the power of organizations, which are patently important in times of nation-wide mobilizations, but, despite all these pitfalls, it is interesting to see the predictions made by the SES model supported by these simple analyses.

However, support for this stripped-down version of SES model receives only very modest support even if one turns a blind eye to all methodological issues underlying this quick-and-dirty analysis of the Ibope data. According to the SES model, individual who engage in political activity also tend to be more active in “non-political” organizations. This does not seem to be the case among the protesters surveyed on June 20th in 7 cities in Brazil – they are no more likely to be engaged in non-political associations.

Rather, it was found that protesters are less likely to identify with a political party and less likely to be affiliated with a political party than the population overall. This is not surprising given the likely effect of social desirability bias when answering these questions in protests that block streets to make their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs heard – whatever this dissatisfaction means in more specific terms is still to be determined.

union party

In summary, students and young people do seem be the largest groups out on the streets, and those who are mobilizing have attended school for longer, and have higher incomes than most of the population. Also, they seem to feel less represented by a political party than most of the population – even though this is a tough comparison given the unstable nature of party “sympathy” in times like these.  Despite this interesting protester profile, however, we still do not have answers to all of our questions.

Are these protesters very different from the early joiners whose protests mostly focused on reducing bus fares? It is hard to say, even though the type of demand and the way in which they mobilized (mostly through civil society organizations) seems to indicate as much.

Protests continue to shake the country: mayors from all over the country have backed down on the increase of bus fares and are starting to rethink their public transportation contracts and policies, governors have started to become less supportive of police repression (at least publically), the federal government is starting to play a more active role in pushing laws and reforms, and the Congress is rushing to discuss and vote on some of the issues raised by protesters (such as committing all oil royalties to spending on education and health and repelling a controversial constitutional amendment on the investigative powers of the Public Ministry). Protesters are still shaking the trees, but the characteristics of the protesters will help determine on which side the fruit will fall.

[I used data from PNAD 2011 to make the plots about the demographic characteristics of the Brazilian population and I used the population from the states in which Ibope surveyed protesters. For the plots about questions on representation and population, I used data from ESEB 2010. Both of these datasets can be found in Centro de Estudos da Metrópole and Consórcio de Informações Sociais.]


São Paulo Demonstrations: It’s Not About 20 Cents, Stupid!

(Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Raphael Neves, PhD candidate at the Politics department at the New School for Social Research, and assistant professor of politics at the University of São Paulo)

São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern hemisphere and Brazil’s financial center, is located thousands of miles away from Istanbul but its 11.3 million inhabitants still know what it feels like to be in Taksim Square. This month, both bus and subway fares
increased by 20 cents of real – the equivalent of 9 cents, USD. Protesters took to the streets following the raise, leading to several clashes with the police. Authorities
claim the increase was below the inflation rate (6.50% in the last 12 months). The mayor, Fernando Haddad, a philosophy professor and the former minister of education under Lula, had stated during his election campaign last year that the city would have to raise the already subsidized fares, frozen since 2011. Brazil has received some of the best combined democracy, economic growth and income distribution scores among the BRICS. So why are people complaining? face_protest The demonstrations have been organized by the Free Fare Movement, which promotes free public transportation for all (a demand the mayor says would cost almost 3 billion USD/year). As the event page of one of the protests on Facebook shows, the demands range from the decrease in public transportation fares to better salaries for teachers; from increased freedom on the Internet, to objections of the construction of soccer stadiums for the next World Cup. Furthermore, the São Paulo state police, commanded by governor Geraldo Alckmin, has overreacted and stepped out of the law. Countless people were arrested for bringing vinegar to the demonstrations. According to police officers, vinegar may be used to produce a bomb. In fact, demonstrators say, it alleviates the effects of tear gas. As a result, protesters have embraced a campaign to “legalize” vinegar. They’ve made Guy Fawkes masks their symbol and “V for Vinegar” has become an immediate hit on social networks. Mockery and creativity are central in these protests as
they’ve helped keep people mobilized. Even when they are forced to split up by the police, they keep connected online.

As the construction of a shopping mall at Taksim square became the last straw for protesters in Turkey, in Brazil, the 20 cents increase has catalyzed dissatisfaction. The perplexed may wonder whether ten years of Workers’ Party rule – Lula’s first term inauguration was in 2003, Dilma, his successor, in 2011 – have contributed to
fight inequality. The answer is yes. However, and here we may have a sharp distinction between Turkey and Brazil, the protests are not directed only towards the government. They are much more dispersed and fragmented. On the one hand, a large part of the population has been integrated into the economic market and consumption levels have never been so high. On the other hand, this possibly made people more aware of other problems way beyond material needs. A minimum wage worker may now choose which cell phone or TV she or he is going to buy, but one is unable to have dominion over basic
aspects of everyday life. In São Paulo, where rent is as expensive as in New York, someone who lives in a poorer area will spend at least two hours in an extremely crowded bus or train to get to work. To lose control over one’s own time and space is enough reason to revolt, isn’t it?

"São Paulo will shut down if the fare doesn't go down!"

“São Paulo will shut down if the fare doesn’t go down!”

All in all, the political system has not been capable of processing this generalized and
fragmented dissatisfaction. The increasing scale of the demonstrations is probably due to their rejection of any sort of party commitment. Of course, the risk of such detachment between civil society and political institutions is to give even more autonomy to bureaucratic structures that administer Brazilians’ lives. In this sense, mobilization may lead to political change, although the result is not necessarily more “progressive” – think,
for instance, of Indignados in Spain, a movement that demanded a radical change of the political system but was followed by the election of Mariano Rajoy. The challenge Brazil
faces is to make democracy more visible; to go beyond the right to cast a ballot in order to empower citizens to exercise effective control over all realms of their lives. These 20 cents are worth a change.
Raphael on twitter: @politikaetc

Representation by law? Gender quotas in Brazil’s elections

On January 1st, 2013, 7,646 women took office as members of the local legislatures in more than five thousand municipalities in Brazil. 665 women were also elected as mayors in these municipalities, marking the largest number of women to enter local office in Brazil’s history.

Is this latest achievement part of the trend started two years ago, when on January 1st, 2011, Dilma Rousseff took office as President of the country? After all, in 2010, not only did Brazil elect its first female president, Marina Silva also gained the largest vote share of any third-runner for the presidency since re-democratization in 1989. Or, are these numbers the direct effect of the gender quota law enacted in 2009? This law requires that a minimum of 30%, of women be on party lists for proportional elections (local, state, and federal legislators). This 2009 law, applied for the first time in the 2012 elections, made a similar 1997 gender quota law more effective by forcing parties to actually enlist women to their tickets.

Examining only the absolute number of elected women in Brazil can be misleading, however. Indeed, careful examination suggests that the proportion of elected women has only risen slightly despite the more effective enforcement of the quota law.


The graphs above tell us part of the story. We can see that the proportion of elected women still remains significantly less than elected men. The first graph indicates that  even though the number of female candidates for local chambers has risen sharply (due to the enforcement of the quota law), the proportion of elected local female legislators is still very small.  Similarly, the proportion of elected state and federal deputies is remarkably stable even through there has been a rise in the number of candidates in the 2010 elections, as shown in the second graph. Given that the gender quota does not affect majoritarian elections, it is a bit surprising that the proportion of elected female mayors has been rising more rapidly than the proportion of elected female local legislators.

One possible explanation for the under-performance of women in elections for local chambers is the lack of resources and support provided by the parties, which recruit women simply in order to formally reach the threshold demanded by the law. This is a difficult hypothesis to test but the graphs above shed some light on it. For instance, the number of female candidates who identified as “housewives” increased in the 2012 elections. This may reflect the greater influence the Electoral Justice had on parties to obey the gender quota law, leading parties to enroll female candidates who were related to existing male candidates.

The gender quota law provides a necessary first step towards equal gender representation. Nevertheless, making sure women have spots on party lists does not guarantee that they will have the resources or access to other factors necessary to get elected.  Like other types of affirmative action, quotas tackle issues of inequality by guaranteeing access of underprivileged groups to the arenas in which they are systematically under-represented (these arenas could be the realm of elections, universities or jobs, among others). Yet, whether this type of affirmative action proves ultimately effective hinges upon empirical and normative assessments.

Affirmative action in Brazil: the challenges of racial classification

It’s old news that Brazil is enacting social quotas – both socioeconomic and racial – for public higher education. In my earlier post, I detailed the impact this sort of policy could have on the quality of higher education.  However, before I had the chance to write a follow-up to that post, a new piece of legislation began being drafted to introduce affirmative action to the civil service.

This is not the first policy of its kind in Brazil. Yet, it is too soon to discuss the implications and effects of this law. Regardless of the final shape the bill takes, any affirmative action will have to grapple with the basic issue of identification of the beneficiaries.

In Brazil, racial classification has always been a contentious topic. For many decades, the government refused to even collect racial information, arguing that race was not a salient issue on this side of the Americas.  However, even if one agrees that there is racial discrimination in Brazil, and that part of the country’s huge inequality hinges upon race and not only class and education, the issue of racial classification is not something to be quickly dismissed. A recent New York Times  forum, for instance, shows very different perspectives.

On the one hand, Peter Fry, a leading anthropologist, argues: “[…], unlike the U.S., the majority of Brazilians do not classify themselves neatly into blacks and whites. In Brazil, therefore, eligibility for racial quotas is always a problem.”

On the other hand, Antonio Sergio Guimarães, a leading sociologist fights back:

Perhaps the biggest challenge in Brazil is the temptation to introduce a systematic verification of self-declared color or race to prevent fraud in affirmative action programs. Race and color are social constructs. It is impossible to define their borders scientifically. Passing is something inherent to this kind of classification. It can be motivated by selfish economic protection or by political altruistic reasons. The fear of fraud must be restrained to give a chance to these programs to flourish.

Ultimately, these scholars seem to be discussing an empirical and methodological issue of racial classification with wide implications for redistribution. Despite the known complexities of racial classification, much analysis relies on a single self-classification based on fixed, mutually exclusive, choices.

Bailey, Loveman and Muniz (2012) present an interesting analysis of Brazil’s racial make-up and racial inequality, taking different racial classification schemes into consideration:

They demonstrate that very different pictures of Brazil’s racial make-up are created depending on which scheme is followed. Comparing the most extreme cases, Brazil could be either 70.4% or 40.7% White. Beneficiaries of affirmative action could either comprise 29.6% or 59.3% of the population. These are hugely different percentages.

Furthermore, these different measurements are not necessarily robust.  Even if more than one measure is used, there is still a lot of incongruence.

In their paper, they go on to convincingly show that different measures also imply different mappings of income inequality between those groups. Their findings do not necessarily challenge the finding that Blacks are, on average, worse off than Whites, but they do bring more precise, rigorous, and contextual evidence to support that claim. In any case, these findings do not mean that race should be disregarded and that it does not influence social interactions in Brazil. They argue that these different measures provide more evidence that race is a multi-dimensional social construct and should be analyzed as such – there is no “true race” to be measured.

But, what do these findings tell us when discussing redistributive policies based on race? Do these inconsistencies hinder any systematic implementation of affirmative action? Or are inconsistencies (and, to some extent, fraud) a “lesser-evil”, with affirmative action a good idea despite these issues? The recent policies seem to have embraced affirmative action despite these problematic measurement issues. The consequences of these choices are still to be fully understood.

Affirmative Action in Brazil: The Country of Racial Inequality Battles the Country of Racial Democracy

On August 29th, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil signed into law a policy that would require public federal universities to reserve at least half of their admission spots for students who had attended public high schools. The law also dictates that there should be quotas based on the racial composition of the state in which the university is located; that is, the number of students admitted should mirror the racial composition of the state.

This law has generated a lot of debate, with the introduction of the racial quota proving particularly controversial. While the debate isn’t new, this latest development marks a major milestone. Last April, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of racial quotes at University of Brasília (UnB), finally burying the much-used argument that racial quotas were unconstitutional, in turn paving the way for this law.

Most students in public federal universities, which are usually of better quality than private universities, come from private elementary and high schools. In four years, Brazilian federal universities will be very different in terms of the demographics of their students, particularly in comparison to the situation prior to 2003, before the first experiment with affirmative action and the expansion of federal universities through a policy of restructuring of higher public education (REUNI).

Now that the social quotas have been enacted by law, universities have four years to adapt to the changes. The effect of the law will certainly vary depending on the field of study – medicine, law and engineering are usually more competitive than other undergraduate majors. But what can we generally expect as a result of this development? In particular, will quotas “lower the quality” of teaching and research in public universities?

There are as many ways to answer this question as there are ways to measure the “quality” of schools and students. Based on the experience of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBa), Antonio Sergio Guimarães et al. collected data and provided analysis on three measures: absolute performance, relative performance, and dropout rates (if you’re interested, there are many others that you can find mentioned here).

Absolute performance is a standardized measure based on coursework grades. Relative performance assesses the development of the students: do students improve their relative positions from entrance admission scores to coursework scores? In other words, are students climbing up the “educational ladder” while in college, are the entrance positions relatively stable over time, or are students’ performances exacerbating the entrance score differences?

Based on these measures, Guimarães et al. compare three types of students: non-beneficiaries (students that did not fill quotas requirements), non-effective beneficiaries (students that, even though they fulfilled the quota requirements, would have been admitted without quotas), and effective beneficiaries (students that were admitted because of the quotas).

They show that, as expected, effective beneficiaries indeed are in much worse socioeconomic positions than the other types of students. Also, effective beneficiaries have, on average, worse absolute performance, as the graph below shows (vertical axis gives the absolute performance, blue and green ticks present the estimate for non-beneficiaries and non-effective beneficiaries, and yellow ticks are for effective beneficiaries):

In terms of relative performance, the authors find that effective beneficiaries perform, on average, similar to other types of students. And, based on a few measures of relative performance, they clearly outperform both the non-beneficiaries and the non-effective beneficiaries.

This point deserves greater attention. It could be argued that effective beneficiaries outperform other students in terms of relative performance because they have more room for improvement given their lower entrance exam scores. The authors acknowledge this point and, based on a series of analyses, attempt to measure the degree to which effective beneficiaries were able to rise to the challenge and keep up with other types of students, accounting for this initial improvement. Their analysis shows that 50% of effective beneficiaries, on average, improved their performance in college (compared to the entrance scores) and rose to the same level as other types of students. In low demand majors, this percentage is as high as 75% and in high demand majors, the percentage is about 40%.

Furthermore, even though it takes longer for effective beneficiaries to graduate (many of them have to work while attending school), they dropout at lower rates than other types of students. This is demonstrated in the graph below (colors are the same as above, blue for non-beneficiaries, green for non-effective beneficiaries, and yellow for effective beneficiaries):

The answer, then, to the fear that social and racial quotas will lower the “quality” of public universities is a cautious “no”. There are many threats to the future of public higher education in Brazil, but, based on the pieces of evidence we have, social quotas do not seem to be a particularly threatening one.

When Is Big Data Enough Data?

Big data has arrived. And I am not the one only saying so. The New York Times , The Economist, The Wall-Street Journal, TED,  and many others have all run recent pieces on this topic. But the practical and ethical implications of this trend are as yet not well-defined.

Big data is a loosely-defined term that refers to data that is often unstructured, such as text, images, archives, web logs, among others. Big data, as its name suggests, comes in voluminous quantities. Structured and unstructured data are available more readily than ever before and, perhaps most importantly, the computer-assisted means to crunch all these pieces and bits of data are becoming more common and more powerful.

Political Science is not adrift of this revolution. It is no coincidence that the New York Times piece about the Big Data trend highlighted political scientists:

Justin Grimmer, for example, is one of the new breed of political scientists. A   28-year-old assistant professor at Stanford, he combined math with political science in his undergraduate and graduate studies, seeing “an opportunity because the discipline is becoming increasingly data-intensive.” His research involves the computer-automated analysis of blog postings, Congressional speeches and press releases, and news articles, looking for insights into how political ideas spread.

And the piece continues:

 “It’s a revolution,” says Gary King, director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “We’re really just getting under way. But the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.”

While the Big Data trend has made its way into political science, I would argue that it has been restricted to those in the discipline primarily concerned with methodology and research design. So far, substantive knowledge on comparative politics, American politics, and other subfields has not been greatly influenced by the influx of new sources of data.

But governments are not moving at the same pace as the discipline. In Brazil, the government is in fact moving faster.

In recent years, the Brazilian federal government has been making available online an impressive amount of electoral, budgetary, geographic, social and economic data on Brazil. The country has no doubt come a long way since 1990 when the census was delayed a full year due to mismanagement and political maneuvers – breaking the 10-year census periodicity that had been established in 1940.

The recent Law of Access to Information has made this trend of open governance combined with huge amounts of data even more salient. As of 16th May 2012, the federal government and many state and municipal governments are making data available online about their budgets, bureaucracies, and employees. Moreover, citizens now have an online tool to demand more information.

The most controversial example of the manner in which this law has been enforced come from the São Paulo Municipal Chamber. All of the Chamber’s personnel have had their names, official job titles, and detailed paychecks made public on the Internet.

It is not difficult to image what has happened since. In such an unequal country, in which citizens’ opinions of the legislative power oscillate from complete execration to total obliviousness, most people were outraged at the high paychecks and apparent distortions. An average municipal legislator in São Paulo makes seven times more than the average per capita income in São Paulo (about one thousand reais per month, a little less than 500 dollars).  But, somewhat surprisingly, the main targets of public discussion were the Chamber’s employees’ salaries. More specifically, a garage manager and a nurse who received eighteen times more than the average income were used over and over again as symbols of the misuse of taxpayers’ money (read about this in the Brazilian media and The Economist).

The public employees’ unions and professional associations argued that the information on salaries could harm the safety of these workers since most of them are clearly well-off compared to most Brazilians.  But, given the somewhat widespread, stereotypical impression shared by many Brazilians that public employees are a privileged bunch, with unfair retirement and vacation benefits and less-than-demanding jobs, their complaints fell on deaf-ears. The publication of the information was seen as an exposé of the alleged unfairness and distortions of the public system.

These events raise at least two issues related to the rise of Big Data in governments. First, we might have more data than ever, but are we asking the right questions with this data? Second, public and private data are not always clear-cut distinctions: are we crossing the line in how we use public data?

Here I will focus only on the second question and leave the first (more difficult) one for a future post.

As a researcher very much in love with big data sets, I cannot say that I do not appreciate this new development. And, I would go even further:  I would love access, like Piketty and Saez had in the United States, to IRS data on income. Their work has been highly influential in informing us about the growing inequality between the top 1% and the bottom 99%.

But we could all use a bit of common sense: is it necessary, for the sake of transparency, to release the full names and the salaries of the employees online? Would it not suffice to have the public employees’ paychecks, organized by job titles and a sort of identification code (the last three digits of their social identification number, for instance)? Is it necessary to put the public employees in a potentially dangerous position or, to say the least, make them socially uncomfortable?

After all, the government’s transparency is not about the individual – not most of the time, anyway. Institutions and elected officials should be held accountable, not individuals or common citizens – at least not in this case. Public employees, unless proven otherwise, are not unlawfully receiving their salaries. Government transparency and data on government are laudable goals, but there are lines that should not be crossed.

Ironically, the garage manager, who received more than 18 times the average income in São Paulo and became the symbol of distortion in the public system, was actually not working in the garage anymore. He was an aide to a councilman and his pay was about seven thousand reais, just slightly higher than the Chamber’s average of six thousand and five hundred reais (approximately 3 thousand dollars). This correction timidly made the news, but it did not make the headlines.

The New Game in Town: Democracy and Putsch in Paraguay

In our first guest post, José Szwako, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM/INCT)  and a researcher at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (NDAC/Cebrap), examines the implications for democracy of recent events in Paraguay. José’s research  focuses on feminist organizations and social movements in post-dictatorship Paraguay.

Translated by Natalia S. Bueno

It took the Paraguayan legislature just about 31 hours to remove President Lugo from office. On June 21st, the lower house voted 76 to 1 to impeach him due to “poor performance of his duties”. On June 22nd, Lugo was given two hours to present his arguments against the impeachment to the Senate. Immediately after, he was voted out of power by 39 out of 45 senators, with two abstentions. The vice-president, Frederico Franco, took office soon after the vote.

Paraguay is no stranger to this type of breakdown in democracy. General Lino Oviedo’s 1996 military mutiny and the assassination of Paraguay’s former vice-president, Luis María Argaña, in 1999, which led to a tragic cycle of protests, were the last two examples of the deadly effects of intra-elite competition.

One of the main legacies of the violent protests following Argaña’s assassination was that the main political actors appeared to have accepted the legitimacy of the rules of the democratic game. For a short period, none dared to question that democracy was the only game in town.

But there is now a new game in town; the political trial that deposed President Lugo on June 22nd reflects a changing scenario in Paraguay. Traditional political forces, the liberalismo and coloradismo (supporters of the Liberal and Colorado parties respectively) appear to respect the rules of the democratic game when, in fact, their actions undermine these very rules.

Numerous factors have led to the situation we see today. Lugo’s administration and the legislative chambers had sat on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. President Lugo had faced fierce opposition to most (if not all) of the bills he tried to pass while in office. This distance between the executive and legislature was due both to Lugo’s (limited) progressive policies as well as perceptions of his (alleged) arrogance towards the legislative. This abyss between the powers was apparent during the political trial as a crushing majority democratically – or rather, legally – voted Lugo out of power.

The parliamentary majority had, in turn, been elected by a controversial electoral system designed during the transition to democracy in the 1990s. Contrary to the Stronista past, which ruled Paraguay for 35 years, these changes ensured that power was no longer concentrated in the executive. Closed party-lists led to an oligarchical mode of electoral competition, controlled by the two traditional parties. These parties have a strict hierarchical structure, with very little participation of their constituents. Little respect is paid to their own internal electoral-organizational rules, as is seen in their manipulation of the electoral system; the parties hide names of those politicians with shaky democratic credentials in the middle of the so-called listas sábanas (blanket lists) to increase the chances of their election. Center-left political parties and social movements have been vocal about the distortions created by the listas sábanas and these actors have been demanding changes to the electoral design for the upcoming elections in 2013. It is no coincidence that those who would be affected by those changes removed Lugo from power by a presidential putsch.

Equally relevant to the electoral design are the tensions surrounding the presidency. Last Friday’s impeachment was the 24th attempt to depose Lugo. One of the previous impeachment attempts argued that Lugo should be deposed because he was a nymphomaniac. In comparison to the way the legislative handled Lugo’s impeachment on the 22nd, this nymphomania accusation appears too tragic to be laughable. The official accusation document has not yet been made public on the websites of the Senate or Lower Chamber, and, if the impeachment document that is circulating the web is authentic (hat tip to Greg Weeks), the vagueness of the accusations and the lack of evidence – as well as the absence of a requirement to present due evidence to prosecute – are truly astonishing.

The arguments used for this coup within and by the rules of the game have centered around land disputes. Lugo was accused of failing to handle these conflicts effectively and of having connections to armed civilian groups involved in land conflicts. The trigger for this last and apparently successful impeachment was the Curuguaty event, which occurred on June 15th and caused the death of 17 people, including police officers and rural workers.

These are the factors that are shaping this sad episode in the young Paraguayan democracy: the oligarchical nature of electoral design, unequal land distribution, incipient, but still elite-threatening, social policies. These have together led to the ad absurdum interpretation and use of democratic rules.

There are a few silver linings, however. Firstly, the events demonstrate the absolute submission of the military to civilian rule – an undeniable accomplishment for such a fragile democracy. Secondly, despite the contentious nature of this event, there has been a relatively low level of state repression. Pro-Lugo groups and voices have not yet been suffocated. In fact, these groups are forming a front called “Frente por la Defensa de la Democracia” and are using the media and other venues to express their opposition to the “presidentrucho” (the less-than-flattering title used to mock new president Franco).

International actors have also played an important role defending the rules of the democratic game. Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay temporally suspended Paraguay from the Mercosur, although they have not yet imposed economic sanctions on the country. It is unclear if the new “triple alianza” will have any impact on Paraguayan politics. In 1996, for instance, international actors had only limited effects on national decisions. If anything, the reaction from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay may challenge the new government’s legitimacy, thereby stirring nationalistic and anti-democratic  feelings among the populace.