(Cross-Posted Article by João Carlos Magalhães; Plus55) – There’s a lot to be said about the abrupt and dreadfully tantalizing new chapter of the Brazilian political crisis. It’s important, though, to first recognize: the country has just entered one of the most uncertain moments of its modern political history. The republic is crumbling before our eyes. Its long-term future form will likely depend on the events of the next few days or weeks.
As I write this, there’s a mounting pressure against President Michel Temer. Apparently, the bankers and industrials who supported his unprecedentedly unpopular government in exchange for a radical austerity agenda in Congress seem to have jumped ship. If that is really the case, Temer’s ousting is only a matter of time.
In addition, the once leader of the opposition, senator Aécio Neves, was suspended and is likely to be arrested. His sister and close ally, the almighty Andrea Neves, was arrested this morning.
The new revelations of Operation Car Wash on how the owner of JBS recorded both Temer and Neves explicitly negotiating or talking about bribery, struck Brazilians as a shock last night. Everyone thought that the political crisis had passed its most turbulent moment and no one was aware of JBS’s collaboration with investigators. Yes, the operation has turned political crisis into a constant over the past three years. But we were suddenly reminded that social entropy comes in shades and degrees.
“This government is over, even if Temer somehow remains in office,” said Claudio Couto, a political scientist, and professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas. “When the public has access to these tapes, the President will be in an unsustainable position. If he insists on keeping his position, he will be the leader of a moribund administration with no power whatsoever.”
How Much Don’t We Know Yet?
Here is a brief list of some of the uncertainties the country faces.
We don’t know yet if Temer will indeed lose his office. If he will, it’s uncertain how and when this will happen. Resigning seems an unlikely option – he would lose his legal privileges, which prevent him from going straight to jail without a Supreme Court decision.
Impeachment is, of course, possible. But that would demand a time-consuming legislative process. Patience is something that the country doesn’t have.
Brazil Political Crisis Demonstrations
Then, there’s an unrelated trial that threatens to unseat him for illegal campaign financing. In June, Brazil’s Superior Electoral will determine if the Dilma Rousseff-Michel Temer 2014 reelection campaign benefited from dirty money.
If the electoral court unseats Temer, it would be a classic “Brazilian solution” – using a legal process to justify a decision essentially defined by an unrelated political scandal. It would be fast and lend to Temer’s ousting a mandatory appearance of legality.
“Before Wednesday, there was the political argument to keep Temer in place. Now, that argument is no longer valid,” says plus55 columnist Carlos Melo.
If Temer loses his office, it is also uncertain how to appoint his successor. According to the Constitution, Congress should hold indirect elections. But the Brazilian Congress is deeply distrusted and would have no legitimacy to make such a dramatic decision. An option would be approving a Constitutional amendment which makes it legal to hold direct elections in a situation like this.
And of course, no one knows right now who could be the next president. If there’s an indirect election, could the well-regarded Supreme Court Chief Justice Carmen Lucia be an option? “It would be a bad solution. Not because of her, but because it would mix two branches of government, which is never a good thing to do,” says Claudio Couto.
If there’s a direct election, would the winner be able to run for reelection in 2018? This new leader would have a 4-year term?
Former President Lula da Silva currently leads all electoral polls. Would he in the mix? If he wins, would the crisis go away or actually deepen, given his involvement with the Car Wash scandal? And how would this accelerated process would affect the very dynamics of elections? Would it make Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman, and João Doria, São Paulo’s Mayor and rising political star, less or more competitive?
Then, There’s The Economy
How would markets react to Temer’s ousting? Is this reaction even important to an economy which is already in its worst economic crisis to date? After this scandal, Brazil’s stock market may suspend activities to avoid a crash.
Will Temer’s austerity reforms prosper in Congress now? If Lula wins the presidency, is he willing to honor his socialist past and halt them? No one really knows.
If there’s one certainty that emerges from the whole upheaval, it is the importance of Operation Car Wash. This new chapter does not annul the operation’s serious and consequential mistakes and illegal actions, but it does cast serious doubts on accusations of political biases and partisanship.
There cannot be any doubt on the historical, watershed nature of the investigation. I’m afraid, however, that it will take some decades for us to understand the country the operation is giving shape to.