Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In his previous column, the Curmudgeon opined that Congress, while paying lip service to the “presidential” system of government, has essentially adhered to the parliamentary method of replacing those whose job it is to lead the country, but have failed — a vote of no confidence.
Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) ruled on April 14th that the Congressional debate must restrict itself to the two grounds alleged in the petition for impeachment heard by the special committee: that Dilma committed two “crimes of accountability” where she violated the Law of Fiscal Responsibility. These were the “pedaladas” and making non-budget expenditures not approved by Congress.
The official Report, approved by the Congressional Committee, went beyond those two items, however, mentioning the Lava-Jato investigation and the plea bargaining statements of criminals implicating Dilma and Lula that had not been raised in the original petition. The STF decided to tell Congress members to ignore those extraneous allegations when voting.
That’s a bit like asking the jury not to consider a prejudicial remark made by counsel in a trial, or asking someone not to think about a pink rhinoceros.
The Government’s argument on the two allowable charges is that prior governments had been engaging in those same practices for decades, and no one ever challenged them before. That’s a bit like contesting a speeding ticket by saying that lots of other drivers speed but don’t get fined; but if the Brazilian economy were not a train wreck, Congress would be more than willing to accept that argument.
But members of Congress know that Dilma is incapable of leading Brazil; she’s admitted as much by appointing Lula as her unofficial Prime Minister. She’s also admitted as much by saying that if she’s not impeached, she’ll carry out a Plan B for national unity — perhaps involving a new presidential election.
Dilma’s “plan B” would require Congress to have confidence she could carry it out — and there is almost no one in Congress who has any confidence in Dilma any more. Worse yet for Dilma, a couple of months ago, Vice President Temer and his party PMDB put forward a detailed plan to get Brazil back on track, specifying a number of concrete proposals.
Most Congress members are inherently conservative, in the cynical sense of “better the evil you know than the evil you do not know”. They know Michel Temer—a past President of both Houses of Congress, now under investigation for corruption. They know Eduardo Cunha, President of the Chamber of Deputies, now under investigation for corruption. They know Renan Calheiros, President of the Senate, now under investigation for corruption. They know PMDB and its history, ever since the corrupt Sarney administration, of getting things done by hook or by crook, and spreading the wealth among friends.
In short, the “evil Congress knows” is a combination of Michel Temer, Renan Calheiros and Eduardo Cunha, all PMDB. For a large majority of Congress, that’s better than any evil they don’t know.
The Curmudgeon predicts that, in the end, the vote of no confidence will cause Dilma to be impeached and evicted from office.
The Curmudgeon will emit more dismal predictions opportunely.