Federal Countries



Brazil won its independence from Portugal in 1822 and initially became a monarchy with a unitary form of government. Slavery was abolished in 1888, and a republican alliance deposed the king in 1889, proclaiming Brazil a federal country. The Brazilian Revolution of 1930 reduced the autonomy of Brazil’s states. When the ruling regime was overthrown by the military in 1945, the federal system was reinstalled along with an electoral system that included competitive nation-wide parties for the first time in the history of the republic. The military regime that took power in 1964 retained an emasculated form of the federal system, but when democracy returned in 1985 the new federal government allowed direct elections for the state governments.

The increased predominance of state interests in the federal regime culminated in the creation of the Constitutional Assembly (1987-88), in which the state and municipal governments consolidated the process of fiscal decentralization initiated in the late 1970s. In December of 1989 Brazil held its first direct presidential election since 1960.

From 1990, when Fernando Collor became the first directly elected President of the Republic in 30 years, to 1994 when Fernando Henrique Cardoso became President, the State Governors played a major role in national politics, influencing the behavior of federal deputies especially through the exercise of patronage or manipulating their chances of re-election.


The Brazilian federation has three levels of government: the central or Union government; 26 state governments and the Federal District government; and more than 5,500 municipal governments. States and municipalities have autonomous administrations which collect their own taxes and receive a share of the taxes collected by the Federal government. States are headed by a governor and municipalities by a mayor. Both entities have elected legislative bodies.

The 26 states of Brazil have significant powers under its Constitution, which was promulgated by the Constitutional Assembly in 1988. Three orders of government are recognized: central, state, and municipal. Additionally, a process of fiscal and political decentralization was ushered in with the new constitution.