Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Today’s Curmudgeon is indebted to Merval Pereira, a commentator on all things political and legal in Brazil, who in 2011 was elected to the Academia Brasileira das Letras (ABL) thus entitling him to the exalted honorific of “immortal” applied to Brazil’s literati.
This week, Mr. Pereira commented upon the salutatory and valedictory (“hale and farewell”) address made by Tiririca to his colleagues in the Federal Chamber of Deputies.
Tiririca is a professional clown, twice elected to the Chamber from São Paulo. In 2010 he received 1.35 million votes, and in 2014 “only” 1.1 million, having campaigned on the exotic slogan “Com Tiririca, pior não fica” meaning the Chamber couldn’t get any worse with him as a member.
Tiririca was wrong.
Brazil’s Congress has gone from bad to worse during the last seven years, as shown by the latest opinion polls: sixty percent of the electorate give Congress’s performance a rating of bad (“ruim”) or terrible (“péssimo”).
Tiririca spent his eight years in office doing very little except attend sessions of Congress. Until this week, remarkably, he had never risen up on his hind legs and made a speech from the Chamber podium. When he did so, it was only to announce he would not run again, and that he was “ashamed of” and “disappointed by” his fellow legislators. He admonished them to “look to the people”—something most of them have never done.
Merval Pereira was prompted to end his column on Tiririca with a mention of yet another “farewell” address—that of Lula in 1988, after the Constitutional Convention had ended. We quote from Mr Pereira’s article (translation our own):
“Lula, after finishing his term as a Convention delegate … raged against the Chamber, where, according to him, there were 300 scoundrels (“picaretas”) in parliamentary activity. Upon arriving at the Presidency fifteen years later, Lula sought out those 300 picaretas in order to form a government based on cronyism (“fisiologia”) and corruption, pure and simple.”
As his regular readers know, the Curmudgeon has long described Lula thus. Mr. Pereira, however, being far better versed in Brazilian parliamentary history than the Curmudgeon, goes on to quote the late federal Deputy Ulysses Guimarães, one of the heroes of Brazil’s escape from military dictatorship: “the next Congress will always be worse than its predecessor.”
Brazil’s federal and state legislatures have long had a turnover rate of at least forty percent – meaning that 2 out of 5 sitting Deputies are newly elected every four years. Still, Congress kept getting worse, even with Tiririca there. Without him, it won’t get any better.
To close, today’s column is related to that of yesterday: the problem with legislatures judging their own members. Even with forty percent renewal, the sixty percent who are firmly entrenched in power continue to exercise that power, by fair means and foul, routinely engaging in corrupt activities because they believe they are exempt from prosecution.
So, if the solution for Brazil’s corruption crisis is to vote for “clean” candidates, the problem is whom to vote for. All Brazilians know this, but almost no one knows whom they should vote for next year.