By Jaylan Boyle, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The first round of Brazil’s forthcoming presidential election is scheduled for October 3, 2010, when the country will choose a successor to current president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
President Lula has repeatedly affirmed his support for Dilma Rousseff to become his successor. Mrs. Rousseff was part of the opposition to the former military regime, and is currently serving with President Lula’s Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) as Chief of Staff. She was the first woman to assume the position. Some commentators have speculated that due to a perceived lack of charisma there is no guarantee that President Lula’s approval rating (which recently hovered around a spectacular eighty percent) will rub off on Mrs. Rouseff.
Mrs. Rouseff’s prospects are lately looking more tenuous however, after further fraud and embezzlement allegations against Leader of the Senate Jose Sarney came to light this week. The latest allegations are another chapter in a wider recent Senate ethics scandal.
President Lula and the Worker’s Party rely on Sarney’s centrist PMDB party, the largest in both houses of congress, to support legislative maneuvers and for endorsement of Mrs. Rouseff as a presidential candidate. In a political system where no one party can realistically hope to achieve majority owing to the large number of small parties, this support is crucial.
Many have called for Sarney to resign over the scandal, after the Brazilian weekend press alleged that he had failed to report to tax authorities a foreign account he held with Banco Santos, which went bankrupt in 2004. Allegedly Sarney withdrew more than R$2 Million the day before authorities moved in to assess the failed bank.
Compounding what is being seen by many commentators as a serious threat to the coalition’s legislative ambitions, a separate report also alleged that Mr. Sarney siphoned sponsorship money given by Petrobras into several companies controlled by his family, in the amount of R$500,000.
The Jose Sarney Foundation however has called all allegations slanderous, saying that it could account for the money in it’s expenses. Many analysts are predicting that Mr. Sarney will step down to avoid further scrutiny and a high-profile public hearing.
Last week the House of Representatives rejected a proposal put forward by Mr. Jackson Barreto of the Brazilian Social Democratic party (PSDB) that sought to give President Lula a mandate to compete for a third term. The proposal was unanimously rejected by the Constitution and Justice committee. Parties opposed to the measure argued that to override the law limiting a head of state to two terms in office would weaken the country’s political system.
Similar to the U.S. system, Brazil elects a President (for a four year term) as head of state and a legislature at the national level. The Congresso Nacional (National Congress) has two chambers. The Camara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 513 members, elected for a four-year term by proportional representation. The Senado Federal (Federal Senate) has 81 members, elected for an eight-year term, with elections every four years for alternatively one-third and two-third of the seats.