Brazil’s Best Shot Against Corruption

Why It Should Have Faith in Its Constitutional System

People attend a protest against Brazilian President Michel Temer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 2017.  Julio Guimaraes / REUTERS

In the late 1980s, Brazilians paid no small price for establishing democracy after a series of military dictatorships. Diretas Já! (Direct Elections, Now!), a civil unrest movement active between 1983 and 1984 that called for direct presidential elections and involved a broad spectrum of society, is probably the most emblematic episode of Brazil’s long fight for democracy. And now it has been resurrected as a new group of protesters demands direct elections to replace the current president, Michel Temer. In May of this year, Temer was accused of allegedly obstructing justice in a corruption investigation that had him as a possible suspect. The problem is that even if the accusations turn out to be true, the Brazilian constitution only allows for indirect elections to fill the presidency at this point, and only temporarily until the next regular elections happen at the end of 2018. Direct elections now, in other words, would be unconstitutional.

Temer was elected as the vice president to Dilma Rousseff in 2010. Rousseff was impeached at the end of 2016, making it possible for Temer to take over her seat as dictated by the Brazilian constitution. He likely would never have reached the presidency through a popular vote—one reason that the protestors demand elections now. Temer’s party, the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), is a centrist catchall party with the largest number of seats in congress but with no strong names to run for the presidency. This is why it made sense for Rousseff to align her leftist Workers’ Party (PT) with Temer’s, thus combining the popular appeal of the PT with the capillarity of the PMDB. But democracy always involves compromises, and what makes people embrace its bargaining game is the assurance of predictable rules that survive despite differences of opinion. That is what the population wanted when they called for the end of military rule just over three decades ago. It is thus misguided to want to change the rules of the game now.


The now famous

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