Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last August 28th, in a secret ballot, the Federal Chamber of Deputies decided NOT to remove Deputy Natan Donadon from office. Convicted of embezzlement, he was then and is now serving time in Papuda, the jail in Brasília. But a majority of his colleagues decided that was not sufficient grounds from removing him from Congress.
In his recent column on this topic, The Curmudgeon said he “would like to believe that the Deputy Don scandal will sway the Congress to eliminate the secret ballot, but he doesn’t believe it will happen. There are too many scurrilous scoundrels and scalawags in Congress whose esprit de corps is exceeded only by their lack of a sense of shame.”
Once again, the Curmudgeon is pleased to announce he was wrong. The Chamber almost immediately voted to remove all Constitutional language which permits legislators to vote by secret ballot. The Senate, three months later, voted to remove secrecy from votes to purge its members, and from votes to overturn Presidential vetoes.
Last week, the “PEC do Voto Aberto” was proclaimed by both houses of Congress.
This is certainly progress. It means, for one, that when the legislators convicted as “mensaleiros” are to be excluded from their seats, the vote will be open for all to know.
Moreover, when presidential vetoes are being considered, legislators will now have to let the public know how they vote — maintain or override. There are some recent vetoes that are very controversial, e.g. the question of how to divide the spoils of the “pre-salt” oil boom among the several states, the new Forestry Code which is anathema to the farm lobby, and changes to the social security laws.
But the task is not complete. Numerous Senators have rushed to defend secrecy, saying that votes on presidential appointments subject to approval by the Senate (Brazil’s ambassadors abroad and judges of STF and STJ) should remain secret, so that senators can “vote their conscience” and “avoid retaliation”.
Conscience has nothing to do with it, of course. Congress has well over 25 parties and most of the “minnow” parties’ existence depends on obtaining one of thirty federal Ministries, which are sources of cash flow and payments to reward their followers.
In return, these parties agree to support the Administration through thick and thin. If a Senator from one of these parties votes against a Presidential nominee, he may be imperiling his party’s continuing to obtain ministerial appointments.
Neither does retaliation have anything to do with it. The Curmudgeon firmly believes there is no such thing as a “secret” ballot in the Senate. The voting is by computer, and in today’s cyber snooping age, it is ridiculous to suppose that President Dilma (perhaps also President Obama?) cannot know exactly how each and very Senator has voted, even in “secret” ballots. Retaliation is always possible.
Thus, the only people who do not know how their elected representatives voted on a presidential appointment are the people who voted for these representatives. That is NOT what democracy is about.
But to return to the beginning, at least on the removal of legislators, and on the overriding of presidential vetoes, members of Congress will now have to let the voters know how they voted. That IS what democracy is about.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)