1.On social media one Brazilian joked that the chaos of Donald Trump’s presidency is simply gringos imitando—foreigners copying us. Others suggest that Brazil should offer the US assistance in setting up impeachment proceeding—a frequent Brazilian trauma. Such dark humor is a necessary refuge in a country where stability rarely lasts for long. The latest crisis erupted last week, when the Supreme Court placed President Michel Temer under investigation for corruption and obstructing justice. On Wednesday of this week, protesters overran government buildings in Brasília, setting fire to the agriculture ministry, and police reportedly responded by shooting live ammunition. Less than a year after the former President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office, Temer faces the possibility of a similar fate. And with right-wing populism on the rise in the country as it is elsewhere in the world, the stakes are as high as they have ever been.
2.Investigation on Temer was opened following media reports of a late-night meeting that the President held in March with a billionaire named Joesley Batista who has confessed to bribing officials to help his meatpacking empire, He secretly video-recorded the conversation with Temer as part of a leniency deal with prosecutors. In a recording first reported by O Globo newspaper, Batista can be heard telling Temer how he paid hush money to a disgraced congressman. Temer replied, “You must keep that up, you hear?” Batista also told Temer that he had two judges and a prosecutor on his payroll. “Great, great,” was Temer’s response. When Batista asked for help in lobbying for his business, Temer told him to contact one of his allies in Congress. Later, after allegedly promising Batista a favorable antitrust decision, the congressman was filmed wheeling a suitcase filled with the equivalent of around a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cash provided by one of Batista’s company executives.
3.It is painful to note that Temer’s rise to power is that it was made possible by revelations of graft in Rousseff’s government—even though, as her Vice-President, he was a key player in that government. His task was to keep the governing coalition satisfied with the distribution of patronage. When he rose to the top job, he had no intention of reforming that system. Instead, his Presidency was welcomed by the political class as a way to stave off an existential threat: a long-running investigation known as Operation Carwash, which had uncovered a multibillion-dollar kickback scheme implicating just about every party in Congress. Even before Temer took office, some of his closest allies were heard suggesting that Rousseff’s impeachment could serve as a smokescreen for derailing the investigation. Despite their best efforts, however, the prosecutors behind Carwash have continued their work. The Batista recording was part of the case, and in recent plea-bargain testimony, a construction tycoon accused Temer himself of negotiating a forty-million-dollar bribe. (Temer has denied any wrongdoing.)
4.Charges against Temer are far more serious than any faced by Rousseff, who was removed, technically, for breaking arcane budget rules. But in Brazil, like in the US, impeachment is a political process—and Temer is a master politician. To win support for Rousseff’s ouster, he courted Congress’s donors, promising to weaken unions and slash public pensions. Business leaders believed Temer—or pretended to—when he claimed to support Operation Carwash, while the President seems to have imagined he could keep the police at bay by delivering the austerity measures desired by the moneyed élite.
5.But this agenda came with an unforeseen downside in that , it has made Temer reviled by the public at large. Amid the deepest recession in Brazil’s history, unemployment is near fourteen per cent. With Temer’s approval ratings sinking into the single digit, the Batista recording proved too damning to wave away. The powerful Globo media group, which was previously supportive of Temer , is now among the loudest voices calling for the President to resign. Last weekend, Temer was defiant, claiming to be the victim of a big frame-up .With Brazilian markets in free fall, he warned that removing him would only hurt a fragile economy. Still, the big question in Brazil now is not whether Temer will remain in power. It is who will take his place.
6.Right since the end of the military dictatorship, in 1985, the country has had four directly elected Presidents, and two impeachments. But through all the turbulence, the same old political class has remained in power, and it is likely to remain so now, at least in the short term. According to the constitution, if the President and the Vice-President both leave office, Congress is tasked with electing a caretaker President to finish out the term. If Temer goes, lawmakers would likely choose a business-friendly name from their own scandal-tainted ranks—in essence, replacing Temer with another Temer.
7.But this approach risks further alienating the public. As Celso Rocha de Barros, a columnist for Folha de S. Paulo, put it , “One of Brazil’s big problems right now is the government’s lack of legitimacy. The risk is that the political system will isolate itself even further from the population at large.” Brazilians are increasingly desperate for alternatives to the self-interested insiders, some even at the expense of liberal democracy. Many have put their hopes in Jair Bolsonaro, a soldier turned congressman who is openly nostalgic for the law and order of the dictatorship.
8.There may be another way out. A proposed constitutional amendment would call for direct elections in the event that Temer is forced out. Eighty-five per cent of Brazilians support this measure. It would allow them to weigh in on two matters essential to their future: how the costs of austerity should be distributed, and how the fight against corruption should proceed. Yet such a path presents risks of its own. The current leader in the polls for the 2018 election is former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s political mentor, who is revered by the poor for his social policies but also accused of taking bribes from construction tycoons. His victory would inevitably bring a confrontation with prosecutors. Recently, he even suggested he might arrest journalists who “lied” about his alleged crimes.
9.Possible reason that the country faces so many bad options is the dearth of national figures not implicated by Operation Carwash. One of the few such names is Marina Silva, an environmentalist who placed third in the 2014 Presidential election after promising to pursue what she called nova política, a new politics. The outlines of the project were vague, but it resonated with Brazilians eager for change to a system that has failed them—and without resorting to the low populism of Bolsonaro. Predictably, most of the political establishment rejects her. Yet whatever the uncertainty in allowing common citizens to decide their future, it is far riskier for Brazil’s leaders to keep pretending that public opinion does not matter. (Source: The New Yorker)