Waiting for Elections: My Week Traveling Brazil / by Mark Langevin

President Michel Temer

President Michel Temer

This week I traveled to Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Cristalina Goiás, Brasília and Vitoria, Espirito Santo. I spoke with citizens from all walks of life, urban and rural, agriculture, manufacturing and services; and those in government. Political polarization is rampant, but the one unifying thread among all the Brazilians I came across during my week; everyone is waiting for the 2018 elections to clean up and repair Brazil. Many are worn-out by the Lava Jato investigations and prosecutions, including the recent conviction of former President Lula. Most I spoke with are reeling from three years of recession and the uncertainty and volatility of government responses. Nearly all are cautious about the possibility of working through the crisis by elections. Yet, every Brazilian is hopeful that the 2018 presidential and congressional elections can serve to catapult Brazil forward, as fast and far from the crisis as possible!

Many Brazilians are rightly exhausted, but as my friend Peter Hakim argues, this factor is not central to today’s political drama. According to Hakim, it is the political juncture that leaves many citizens without faith in political action. I agree with Hakim, but for different reasons. Hakim argues that those who pushed for former President Dilma’s impeachment are reluctant to mobilize against current President Temer because it would appear to support former President Lula and his Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).  In part Hakim is correct, the energy and organization behind the massive demonstrations of 2015 and 2016 calling for impeachment, including the work of Vem Pra Rua, were clearly an ideological expression of opposition to the PT, or what they call Lulopetismo. This movement, including Vem Pra Rua, is clearly an ideological expression of forces allied against the PT and its governments under Lula and Dilma. Rather than wait for 2018, these forces sought the cover of the constitution to remove the PT from the executive branch.

In this sense, Hakim is correct. President Temer is corrupt, but he now represents those forces now allied against the PT and Lula. These forces, including Vem Pra Rua, celebrate Lula’s recent conviction, but are loudly absent from any actions related to the removal of the current president and his corrupt allies in congress. This was evident as President Temer compelled those parties in his government to remove and replace 11 of the 66 federal deputies committed to approving the formal denunciation (and eventual removal) of his corruption in the Justice Committee of the House of Deputies. This “glope branco” against Brazilian democracy was completely ignored by those supporting Dilma’s impeachment. 

Vem Pra Rua was silent.

So the political juncture is important. Those that proposed themselves as combatants against corruption during 2015 and 2016 are locked in their own iron cages. Those that defended Dilma lift the “Fora Temer” banner, but without the credibility required to fill the streets. The rest are left without a banner, without organizations capable and willing to mobilize, without an opportunity to achieve good governance through political action, at least today. Most Brazilians have faith in political action, but that the only meaningful action left to take is the vote in 2018.

Brazil is stuck in its own political crisis and Brazilians know it.

Congresso em Foco reports that 60% or 238 Brazilian congressional representatives with current criminal, corruption and electoral charges pending in the Supreme Court are affiliated with the largest political parties, namely the Partido Progressista (PP), Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB), and the Partido da República (PR). Recently, the convicted coordinator of the Mensalão scandal, Marcos Valério, entered a plea bargain that named former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) and Lula (PT) along with Senators Aécio Neves (PSDB) and José Serra (PSDB) as players in the so-called Mensalão Tucano (PSDB). Certainly Valério has a lot to gain through his testimony, specifically to lessen his own punishment of 37 years for the Mensalão. Nevertheless, his testimony, if accurate, further stains the body politic of Brazil and confirms that the current Congress will not take measures to combat corruption and remove its own corrupt members. The removal of the former President of the House of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), is the counterfactual, the human sacrifice to sweep political accountability under the rug and move on with politics as usual.

Brazilians are weary of those that raised the banner of combating corruption only to burn it as their patrons, including Aécio Neves, Eduardo Cunha, and Temer were denounced repeatedly by plea bargained testimony. Most Brazilians understand that Lula and his PT took short cuts in their efforts to grow Brazil and eliminate poverty, but unfortunately Lula and the PT are unwilling to speak frankly about the Lava Jato and the party’s involvement. Most importantly, Lula and the PT have yet to propose a reliable path forward that prioritizes the hard, democratic work of eliminating corruption and achieving good governance and political accountability. For that matter, no other powerful political party has dedicated its platform to the fight against corruption. This leaves few options for Brazilians, other than wait for elections that matter. In the meantime, Temer governs.