After election, Brazil set to debate shape of young democracy

``Ideas didn't play much of a role in the campaigns,'' one Brazilian political strategist says. ``But they're going to have to now.'' Saturday's nationwide election - the first since Brazil's return to civilian rule last year - was, in the view of many analysts, more a matter of style than substance. Personality played a much greater role in many races than did questions of policy.

But the newly elected National Congress has before it a task that will require careful consideration of the important issues that face this country. The Congress is to rewrite Brazil's Constitution, a job that will require defining basic political, social, and economic rights for a society emerging from 21 years of authoritarian rule.

Polls show that up to 70 percent of Brazil's 69 million voters didn't understand all that is at stake in the rewrite of the Constitution. But Brazilians did vote so solidly for President Jos'e Sarney's centrist ruling party - the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) - that, say analysts, it creates the congressional political stability necessary to tackle controversial constitutional issues.

The PMDB captured a clear majority in Congress and, together with its governing-coalition partner - the Liberal Front Party (PLF) - it swept all of the 23 gubernatorial seats.

Such an endorsement of the Sarney government is likely to mean the President will serve out at least a full four-year term through 1989. Under transition from military to democratic rule, Sarney has been serving an indeterminate term until decisions on length of office are made in the new constitution.

Although the PMDB won a landslide victory, political ideology had litle role in the elections, says Carlos Eduardo Matheus, director of the Brazilian Gallup poll. Brazilians voted for PMDB candidates based on the personality and popularity of the PMDB government's economic readjustment program, the Gallup poll found. The economic program, the Cruzado Plan, has increased the average Brazilian's buying power by 30 percent.

It is widely believed the constitution will shape up as a middle-of-the-road document under the PMDB's influence. The party is a coalition of extreme diversity. Sarney himself was previously a conservative, military- government supporter. Some party members are said to be declared communists.

``Today we're only certain of two things - we won't have a Nicaraguan Constitution nor a Constitution of Mussolini in Italy,'' says Jos'e Gregori, a human rights lawyer and a PMDB congressional candidate. Observers say that between those extremes, there is a lot of room for debate on a wide range of issues.

The most pressing problem underlying all issues is the gap between rich and poor, says Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a social democrat elected as a PMDB senator from Sao Paulo. That suggests, he says, that the constitution will mention such specifics as agrarian reform, tax reform, establishing labor union autonomy from the federal government, reduction of the federal bureaucracy, and economic reforms.

Brazilian constitutions tend to be much more specific than the general Constitution of the United States. The new constitution is likely to have about 300 articles, Miguel Reale, a constitutional law professor at the University of Sao Paulo, says.

Though there will be heavy debate on such social issues as agrarian reform, one point that seems to draw universal agreement is the reduction of executive authority. Businessmen and more liberal social welfare groups seek to increase congressional and judicial authority over the executive branch. They cite the Cruzado Plan as an example of current executive ability to set policy by decree, without legislative approval.

When the constitutional debate begins in February, Mr. Matheus says, Brazilian citizens will focus on tangibles such as adjusted minimum wages, reduced work weeks, and improved social programs. A Gallup poll on issues important to voters shows majority support for: free enterprise tinged with nationalist protectionism, the death penalty as a deterrent to rising urban crime, women's rights, and a civilian government backed by a strong military presence.

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