to Mr. Evarts.
Rio de Janeiro , May 3, 1879. (Received June 9.)
Sir: An important change in the electoral law of Brazil has been proposed by the ministry with the sanction of the Emperor.
The system as it now stands is indirect, and the privilege of suffrage is but little restricted. The new system submitted by the Liberal ministry proposes to confer on the people the right to vote directly for those who are to represent them. Hitherto the people have been allowed to vote, not directly for the candidates who are proposed for the several places to be filled, but for a certain number of electors, who subsequently choose the persons to be elevated to office. This system interposes a body of men supposed to be better qualified between the people and their representatives.
It would seem at the first view that the proposition to confer on the people the privilege of choosing their representatives without the intervention of another body who control the final selection, was a concession to the popular will. But the new system proposes a much higher qualification for the right of suffrage than that which exists to-day. It requires that the right of suffrage shall be limited to those who can read and write, and who enjoy a “renda,” a certain income amounting to about $200.
It is undersood that this would exclude nineteen-twentieths of those who now enjoy the right of suffrage.
So, while the proposed change in the electoral system seems to be a concession to the popular will, it is really a conservative measure, and restricts the influence of the people upon the power and the action of the government. The measure has been submitted to the Chamber of Deputies, and it is under discussion at this time. It has given rise to a debate of great interest and power.
Some of the leading Liberal statesmen oppose the measure earnestly and vigorously. Among these the most conspicuous, as he is, too, the ablest and the most eloquent, is José Bonifacio, member from San Paulo, the finest province in the empire.
In a recent dispatch I spoke of this remarkable man and described the part which he took on the occasion of the” interpellation” of Mr. de Sinimbu, president of the council of state, by M. de Martins, the late minister [Page 136] of finance. He took the floor a few days since, when the proposed change in the electoral laws of the empire came up for discussion in the Chamber of Deputies, and delivered a speech in opposition to the measure, which is pronounced to be the greatest parliamentary effort made during the present reign. I was in the diplomatic tribune observing the progress of the debate when José Bonifacio rose to address the Chamber, and the spectacle was most impressive.
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The fate of the proposed measure is uncertain.
The conflict between the Liberal and Conservative parties is fierce, but I do not see that there is any probability that the latter will return to power for some time to come.
The state of political parties here affords a subject for study of deep interest; their action is controlling the course of the government, and guiding its fortunes in a way that must essentially affect its powers and perhaps modify its form.
I have, &c.,