Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Today, August 3rd, Brazil’s Legislative Branch is scheduled to vote on whether to permit Brazil’s Judicial Branch to judge Brazil’s Chief Executive for the crime of corruption.
The vote is NOT whether to impeach Temer and remove him permanently from office, as was done with former President Dilma Rousseff; the vote, if carried, would simply impose a leave of 180 days during trial.
What the vote does have in common with Dilma’s impeachment proceedings, however, is that it is also, in essence if not in name, a vote of confidence/no confidence in the President by the Parliament.
Presidential systems of government do not, as a rule, provide for votes of confidence; those are the hallmark of parliamentary systems, and violate the fundamental principle of presidential systems—the separation of powers. Brazil, sadly, is an exception to the rule.
Why “sadly” you may ask. The answer lies in the composition of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, and specifically to the most powerful interest groups represented therein.
These groups are often referred to as the three B’s (or BBB)—“boi, bala e bíblia”—or, with a bit of poetic license “beef, bullets and bibles”. In the U.S., similar groups exist, and are usually called the farm lobby, the gun lobby and the religious right.
Brazil’s BBB are at least as powerful here as their counterparts in the United States. And all of them have swung into action because of the upcoming vote of confidence in the Chamber. None of them cares a whit that only seven percent of Brazilians who are polled have any confidence in President Temer.
What Brazil’s BBB care about is whether their pet programs will be supported by the Temer administration, meaning both political and financial succour. The farm lobby desires to reduce the restrictions on deforestation; the gun lobby desires to reduce the restrictions on gun ownership; and the religious right desires to abolish abortion by making it a heinous crime.
For the past few weeks, the BBB have been engaged in negotiations with President Temer and his closest lieutenants, claiming they have not made up their minds as to how to vote.
How the BBB vote, in the end, will have nothing to do with whether they believe there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial by the STF.
How the BBB vote will have everything to do with whether they believe they can return to their constituents in the 2018 elections and defend their confidence in the Temer administration, by showing results.
Impeachment is about political crimes, not ordinary crimes, so an impeachment vote is, quite properly, a political question. Bribery and graft are not political crimes, they are crimes in the penal code, and votes on crimes ought not to be politically inspired.
But in the Brazilian parliament, politics trumps everything, especially justice and ethics.