The Federative Republic of Brazil is a constitutional republic composed of 26 states and the Federal District. This district surrounds the federal capital, Brasília. The constitution of October 1988 (last amended in 1998) establishes a strong presidential system.
The president and vice president are elected to four-year terms and can be reelected once. In 1985, the previous constitution was amended to allow for direct popular election as opposed to an electoral college system. Between 1964 and 1978, presidents were pre-selected by the military. The president is the head of the armed forces and is in charge of the executive branch, assisted in that task by a cabinet of ministers. He also appoints justices to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the highest court in Brazil.
The Congress consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has 81 members, three for each state plus the Federal District. Senators serve for eight-year terms, with half the members retiring every four years. The 513 deputies are elected for four-year terms by a system of proportional representation in the states, territories, and Federal District. The constitution stipulates that Congress meet every year from 15 March to 15 December. In practice, from 1964 to 1985, the military used the office of the president to dominate the Congress and the state legislatures, suspending them from time to time.
Voting is compulsory for most men and employed women between the ages of 18 and 65 and optional for persons over 65, unemployed women, those between 16 and 18 years of age, and officers of the armed forces. Illiterates were permitted to vote in 1985. Enlisted servicemen may not vote.