Thursday, 12 May 2016

Is What's Going On in Brazil Politics A (Soft, Light, Parliamentary, Peaceful, Constitutional, Democratic) Coup?

Few, I assume, have missed the high level political developments in Brazil, where this night the Brazilian senate voted to impeach president Dilma Rousseff. Otherwise, some updates are here, here, here, here, to provide just a few. The process have been truly bizarre, as Dilma is ousted by and to the benefit of truly much more corrupt politicians than herself, for a sin which looks like a minor thing in context, not least the fact that the trick of hiding a budgetary deficit has been an accepted practice of Brazilian governments for a long time. In any case, the immediate result is that Dilma is now suspended from office for 180 days, while it will be determined if she is to be removed permanently. During that time, her selected vice president, Michel Temer steps up to head the government, and there he will remain if she is indeed removed by parliament.

Now, Temer is politically very far to the right of Dilma – who was once hailed as the heiress to the very popular political legacy of Lula da Silva but has then mismanaged the economy badly to lose popularity. Temer is accused of serious corruption and is probably correctly described as allied with the right wing forces (equally or worse corrupt) of parliament that want to have Dilma removed. This fact, together with a truly crazy roller coaster process of parliamentary decisions, courts and judges interfering at different levels, and a fresh speaker of parliament trying a last minute nullification of the whole shebang the other day, then making a 180° turn just a few hours later, have made commentators to the left side of typical conservative politics talk about a "coup". Not a military coup or a palace coup, of course, but nevertheless something truly undemocratic and fishy going on to remove a democratically elected political leader to the benefit of one representing a party that has performed weak to say the least in the last few general elections. This, not least, is Dilma's own main line. Some sources describing the same or very similar points are here, here, here, here, to name just a few. What's so interesting with this argument is that those who sing the coup line, do it with a long line of qualifiers. It's a "soft" coup, or a "light" one, it's not unconstitutional, but still a coup, neither is it against the democratic process of Brazil, but a coup nevertheless. And so on. So, one may wonder, with that definition of a coup, what's not a coup in the area of democratic states changing leaders?

Let's face it. Brazil is a constitutional democracy. One might prefer changes to its constitution, but that goes, of course, for all constitutional democracies. None of them are perfect. Within this constitution, Dilma has been elected for president by (strong!) popular vote, and it seems that none of the coup advocates complain about that, so Brazil democracy must be doing OK also by their light. Likewise, within this constitution, Dilma has selected Michel Temer as her vice prez, probably for reasons of the power politics of forming political alliances going on in any democratic state following a general election. That is, Michel Temer is as democratically selected as any vice president or vice PM of any country. Moreover, the role of a vice prez or PM is exactly to step in when the president or PM cannot perform their duties of office. This, once again, does not make Brazil an exception from other constitutional democracies. This alone settles the fact that there is nothing undemocratic or constitutionally dodgy of having a political mirror image taking over for Dilma. It's a consequence of her own democratic political moves to form a strong government to lead. This holds whatever the reason for her incapacity to execute her office, should it be illness, disappearance, death – or criminal charges. Moreover, the impeachment process seems to be perfectly constitutional, as the democratic constitution here gives the power to drive it to parliament rather than courts. Again, this may look unsatisfactory to some, but this solution to the issue of how to deal with (suspected) criminal political leaders, is far from unique among constitutional democracies around the world. At the end of the day, therefore, the 180 day removal of Dilma from office seems to be perfectly democratic and constitutional, and the consequence of this removal is that Temer now takes over, again (as we saw) perfectly in line with constitutional democratic rules and procedures.

My conclusion is that if the removal of Dilma and insertion of Temer as president is a coup, so is every constitutionally democratic (re)formation of government all over the world.

What we see in Brazil is nothing undemocratic or even a lack of democracy. It is about a deeply corrupt state and country, where political leaders sell themselves for money and form ideologically bizarre alliances for the mere reason of holding on to power, and the country's highest leader making serious political mistakes and not revising policies. This is something that needs to be highlighted much more: democracy is no guarantee for sound politics or well functioning states. It has other merits, of course, but to get at the deficiencies exposed by the latest mess in Brazil, we should look in other directions than the system for allocating formal political power, namely here.



  1. Hi! I am a brazillian and i have to tell you that this type of political problems is very common. The corrupt system of brazil alows that technalities can be use to exume people from legal cases as such now that is call by the media and federal police as "big oil" fraud.
    Brasil has a problem with corruption in high and low levels of the government, including the police itself.

  2. There is a Dramatic twist in the events sir.... I can smell betrayal and insincerity. Also, Gender inequality plays a role here.. The woman is always the victim.

  3. mismanaged the economy badly to lose popularity. ->>> this really happen?

  4. Let's start with a crucial question:

    What should be done with a president caught by committing a crime?

    If you prefer to call coup the replacement ofa President in this condition, that is so. In Brazil, the Constitution provides that the President caught making a crime shall be replaced by the Vice President, specially when the Vice President received the same votes as the President. Thus in Brazil.

    In your introduction you claim that Dilma was accused of committing the same crimes than their predecessors. This is probably due to their lack of legal dynamics in our country, which is perfectly understandable.

    What you do not know is that the law establishing the tax liability of the President, to which Rousseff is accused of cheating, was sanctioned only 1 year before Luís Inácio "Lula" da Silva took office. So if any President before Dilma ripping off this law was Lula, since we can not accuse the previous Presidents have circumvented a law that did not exist. There is no crime where there is no law guiding the proceedings. The problem is that he has not been caught committing the crime, mainly due to his acts against the law of responsibility have been on a much smaller scale than that of Dilma Rousseff made it difficult to be detected crime. In fact we still would not knew that Lula has committed such crimes, if Dilma had not reported it to his defense.

    About Michel Temer be suspected of corruption, it is because he and his party have been next to Dilma Rousseff throughout a term. It is a logical conclusion that is not necessarily supported by some act actually committed by him. Fearing therefore part of the group that supported the President Dilma Rousseff, not opposition to Rousseff as his article mistakenly makes it seem.

    Perhaps you are confusing Michel Temer with Eduardo Cunha, who was the President of the Chamber of Deputies and by chance also belongs to the party of the Vice President. Yes, he was being formally accused of having committed acts of corruption, and even has been put away from the House.

    However here it is a clarification of the fundamental role played by Eduardo Cunha in the case of impeachment. Cunha was not the proponent of the impeachment process. It turns out that one of the President of Chamber of Deputies functions is to receive requests for impeachment against the President, since exist in the request text evidence of crime committed by the President.

    Regardless of the charges against Eduardo Cunha, and for which he is already responding, he had no choice but to accept the request once met the legal requirements for acceptance. And that's what he did, constrained by the facts related in the application submitted by voters not only unhappy, but shocked by the fact that the President has committed crimes against the state. These crimes that contributed to dive Brazil in the worst economic and political crisis in its history.

    I sincerely hope to have been able to contribute to a better understanding of what is happening in our country.

  5. How does any of this apply to death?