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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon writes this as the several dozen political parties represented in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies are trying to choose the 65 representatives on the Impeachment Committee. The Committee membership must be proportional to the number of seats in the Chamber.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

PT and PMDB, the largest two parties, get eight representatives each; PSDB, the largest opposition party, will have six members. Several others have four.

While it is expected that all eight PT members will be anti-impeachment, and all six PSDB will be pro-impeachment, no one can say what PMDB will do. This is because PMDB’s party leader in the Chamber is allied to Eduardo Cunha, who is in opposition.

There are PMDB members on both sides of the aisle (and many perched precariously atop the fence) so we may see both anti- and pro-impeachment Committee representatives from PMDB. There are other split parties as well.

One of the quandaries for PMDB is that if Dilma is impeached, Michel Temer, her Vice President, takes over as President — and Temer is PMDB. Under the patronage system for the governing coalition, he was able to select his personal protégés for cabinet minister appointments.

All of his choices have now resigned their positions. Last week it was the Minister of Airports, and Dilma lost no time in promising that ministry to the representatives of PMDB in the Chamber of Deputies — she of course denies this is a way to get anti-impeachment votes from PMDB deputies.

The Committee should begin hearings immediately, offering the President the right to defend herself. This has generated another potentially confusing situation, with anti- and pro-impeachment forces battling over the calendar.

The problem is that Congress will begin its year-end recess December 22nd — but there will not be enough time before that to have ten committee sessions. Congress only reconvenes next February, so unless it foregoes its recess, the impeachment debate will drag on into Carnival.

Under usual circumstances, one would expect the anti-impeachment forces to support delay, giving Dilma more time to marshal her arguments and forces. Surprisingly, however, this is not the case. Pro-impeachment want delay because they expect the economy to worsen and voters to hit the streets and demonstrate against Dilma.

The anti-impeachment forces implicitly recognize this danger and want to compress the Committee phase into the next ten days or so, hoping to force a Committee vote before the recess.

Only a simple majority of Committee members, not the two-thirds required to impeach, will decide the Committee vote, and no one now knows how that vote will go. Actually it doesn’t really matter because the vote is always submitted to the full Chamber, which must decide.

In parallel with this, Dilma has reached out to the governors of Brazil’s 27 states and has obtained the vocal support of at least fifteen of them, including Rio’s Governor Pezão and all the governors from Brazil’s Northeast, Dilma’s principal source of support.

As it happens, state governors typically have substantial political influence over federal deputies in the Chamber, so they are surely involved in the choice of Committee members now being made.

The Curmudgeon has lived in Brazil for a very long time, but he still doesn’t know where the buck stops.

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