Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon’s prior submission pointed out the similarity between today’s Russia and Brazil: both have developed a “Sistema” where “business and the state have merged in a union of total and seamless corruption.”
The Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigations have attempted, with a surprising degree of success, to break apart that union, and to punish those who have impoverished Brazil through corruption.
Inevitably, the principal political players in the “Sistema” have now begun attacks upon the investigators and the judiciary, hoping to ensure future access to ill-gotten gains.
The means to this end, perhaps surprisingly, is the October elections, where voters will choose new state governors and legislators, new federal deputies and senators and a new president of the republic.
At the presidential level, front-runner Lula continues to claim his innocence, and vows to sue prosecutors and judges after he is vindicated. Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who is front-runner if Lula is ineligible, has announced he’s going to pack the STF, by appointing another ten Justices, without having to get Congressional approval.
Ciro Gomes, the candidate most likely to appeal to frustrated Lula voters if Lula can’t run, has just said he’s going to get Lula out of jail, and he’s going to put the prosecutors and judges “back in their little boxes.” Although he claims that was merely shorthand for reducing judicial activism, everyone knows what he really means.
Geraldo Alckmin, a four-time governor of São Paulo state, with negligible support in public opinion polls, has recently announced he has obtained the fealty of the so-called “Centrão”. The Centrão is a block of five political parties, somewhere to the right of Lula and to the left of Bolsonaro.
The Centrão rose to promise when it joined Temer’s PMDB and Alckmin’s PSDB to ensure the impeachment of former president Dilma. Thereafter, it guaranteed the passage of legislation that ensures that politicians affiliated with PMDB, PSDB and the Centrão will receive the lion’s share of government campaign financing and airtime on television.
The Centrão’s monicker is attributable to its position within Brazil’s “Sistema”—smack in the very center of the unofficial but all-pervasive corruption. If the Centrão can keep electing its prominent members, they can continue to ensure they will not wind up in jail.
Politics being the art of the practical, what the Centrão politicians can do to maintain the Sistema, they will do.
They can pass a statute that legalizes “caixa dois” (offbooks) donations to political parties and politicians. They can pass a statute that abrogates the “ficha limpa” law prohibiting convicted criminals from running for office. They can even pass a constitutional amendment permitting campaign donations from businesses, overturning an STF decision.
Moreover, they can resist the efforts to privatize the state-owned companies they have raided for years for their private gains. They can continue to appoint trusted cronies to the “watchdog” agencies – TCU, TCE, CGU – that have long turned a blind eye to the systemic corruption. They can deepen political control of the regulatory agencies captured by the businesses they supposedly regulate.
And, finally, the Centrão can (and most definitely will) seek to curtail and shut down the Lava Jato investigations that are anathema to the Sistema.