Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s biggest problem is that, institutionally, it’s living a lie. The 1988 Constitution created an essentially parliamentary system with many institutional features that do not belong to a presidential one. For starters, there are now 35 registered political parties, none of which stands for anything other than getting elected and feeding at the public trough.
There isn’t even a minimal vote requirement for parties (which are private entities) to receive public campaign funds. There are “suplentes” or substitutes for legislators who take executive positions, but who can step back in whenever they want.
Recently, three of Dilma’s ministers returned to their seats in Congress, taking a temporary leave of absence from their daytime jobs, just so they could vote against impeachment of their boss.
There is the reprehensible, barely comprehensible “party coefficient” system of electing federal, state and municipal deputies, permitting the formation of election coalitions between parties, and ensuring that most deputies don’t actually represent anyone except themselves.
There are “medidas provisórias” or executive decrees with the force of law, common to the many failed parliamentary republics of the early 20th Century. Historically, both Hitler and Mussolini came to power legally by issuing the functional equivalent of “medidas provisórias”.
All these factors combine to make Brazil ungovernable by fair means, but governable by foul—“mensalão”, “Petrolão” and more. Lula understood this very well.
Back in 1999, when plumping for the impeachment of FHC, Lula said publicly that if elected he would use the plethora of parties to take power, distributing high-cash-flow ministries and plush jobs at cash-rich state-owned companies to cronies in exchange for votes. He did precisely that for eight years as President.
Even though sitting at Lula’s right hand the entire time, Dilma never learned the tricks of that trade until it was too late. Her last-gasp attempt to retain the title of President, however, was to appoint Lula as her unofficial Prime Minister. That’s equivalent to resignation and conversion to a parliamentary system whereby she, like Queen Elizabeth II, reigns but does not rule.
Dilma should have resigned months ago, as the Curmudgeon and many other commentators have long pointed out. Had she done so, Brazil would not be living through its current farce, where the corrupt “300 Picaretas” in Congress (Lula’s phrase) have voted to oust the president in favor of her vice president.
Votes of no confidence have no place in presidential systems, but Sunday, April 17th, the Brazilian Congress (oops! sorry, should have said Parliament…) gave a resounding vote of no confidence in Dilma, by an overwhelming 367 deputies out of 513. The Senate will soon conduct its own vote of confidence or no confidence.
Brazil’s biggest problem is that its people do not recognize they are living an institutional lie, where they have inherited the worst of both worlds.
The Curmudgeon, who once studied parliamentary vs presidential systems for one full academic year, begs his readers’ pardon for entering into the realm of political science, rather than mere politics.