Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For most spectators, the most surprising event of the entire impeachment proceeding was the abrupt division of the vote on impeachment (guilt or innocence) from the vote on punishment (loss of political rights).

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

The split vote seemed analogous to a football (soccer) match, where one team has been winning 1-0 for almost all of the match, until suddenly, in the very last minute of injury time, the losing side manages, out of nowhere, a goal to tie the score. For the team that was winning, the game feels like a defeat; for the last gasp achievers, it counts as a win.

It turns out that the mastermind of this plan was Renan Calheiros, President of the Senate, who worked out the details well in advance with STF Justice Lewandowski. When a PT senator made the proposal to have two separate votes, Lewandowski’s posture indicated he knew full well it was coming. So he decided that, as President pro tempore of the Senate, he could take that decision on his own, rather than submitting it to the full Senate.

As almost all lawyers and law professors have pointed out, Lewandowski’s legal reasoning was extremely poor. He basically relied on an STF decision from the Collor impeachment which permitted Collor to be banned from public office for eight years, even though he could not be impeached, because he had resigned.

What Renan and Lewandowski knew, however, is that impeachment is essentially political, not juridical. There were lots of political reasons to split the vote. One was that Dilma has always seemed personally honest, unlike Collor who was a crook. Another reason is that it was a crime without a victim—sure, Banco do Brasil had to wait for its money, but it eventually was paid.

Yet another reason was that everybody in Congress knew that the “pedaladas” were, technically, “crimes de responsabilidade”, but they also knew that prior Presidents had long done the same, without fear of punishment. And, finally, if the vote was not split, everybody would have appealed to the STF and no one knew what they would do.

So, for a minor crime, a minor punishment seemed politically justifiable.

One troubling thing about the vote not to apply any punishment to an impeached president, is that it reinforces the argument that there has been, in fact, a “parliamentary coup”. The House and the Senate had no confidence in Dilma and so they voted her out of office, using the “pedaladas” as an excuse. That’s what happens in democratic countries with parliamentary systems of government, but not in presidential systems.

The other troubling thing is that the vote represents what the French call “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”; or, if you prefer colloquial English, “same old, same old.” In essence, the split vote ploy was PT and PMDB leadership conspiring to impose their will on the rest of the Senate and the nation. That’s what has been happening in Brazil ever since Lula was first elected, and it’s a little bit scary to see that it may be coming back again.

The Curmudgeon repeatedly urged Dilma to resign; had she done so, she’d be in the same position as she now is–a former President with full political rights. And she’d have saved Brazil a lot of conflict.


  1. Exactly. A parlamentary Coup, a political Coup that will have enourmous consequences for the pior and working class.

  2. The above comments of The Curmudgeon stating, “That’s what has been happening in Brazil ever since Lula was first elected, and it’s a little scary to see that it may be coming back again”, should not be underestimated, dismissed or ignored.

    Now is the time the other political parties in Brazil and all those who profess to care about democracy in Brazil and the Constitution to put aside their squabbling and unit to stop this thinly veiled communist lead anarchy.

    People should be aware that once the PT and Lula gain complete political control and consolidate all their power, demonstrations, breaches of the peace, increasing violence, civil disorder and wanton damage to public property will not be tolerated. In other words, any opposition to what the PT and supporters think is best for Brazil be eliminated.The voices of the people will be silenced and democracy will exist in name only. Just as has already happened in so many other countries. If things are not corrected soon Brazil is in danger of becoming the next Venezuela .

    Sometimes Brazilian need to fight their inherent desire to make jokes about bad situations and shrug off their social and political problems as just being part of what it is to be a Brazilian. Sometimes democratic freedom needs to be fought for and not taken for granted. That time has arrived!

  3. When I listen to my wife’s family saying that, “Maybe the dictatorship wasn’t all that bad”, it provides food for thought. Infrastructure projects were by and large, more efficiently completed under the dictatorship. They don’t really want a dictatorship again, I mean my father in law was shining shoes at age 11 to get by, and now owns a cattle ranch.

    However, it reminds me of my high school European History teacher who every year did a debate with the American History teacher on the benefits of divine monarchy vs democracy/republic. There really needs to be a white knight that comes through for the Brazilian people. I hope it can be Sergio Moro, and that people will follow his example of prosecuting corruption and other crimes with determination and a minimal to non-political view. It’s essential for the rule of law to be respected and for this to filter down into the day to day business transactions of Brazilian life.


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