A Dangerous Game Threatens Brazilian Democracy


By Jorge Rubem Folena de Oliveira (pictured) Constitutional lawyer and political scientist

In times of severe political and economic crisis in Brazil, the legislative and judiciary are protecting each other, by granting an increase between 16,38 – 41,47 % in salaries of the Supreme Court judges and judicial servants with a budgetary increase of R$ 5.99 billion a year. This was approved on an emergency basis by Congress on Tuesday 3rd of May. These increases also favour employees of the Federal Public Ministry, responsible for formulating criminal allegations against parliamentarians.

In other words, the same legislature that is aiming to remove the President of the Republic, Dilma Rousseff, elected by vote of the majority, is courting the ministers of the Supreme Court and the Public Ministry, and have the powers to formulate criminal charges and prosecute the parliamentarians involved in corruption cases.

Due to the financial crisis that hit Brazil in 2015, the Rousseff government has been aiming to cut administrative expenses, but all attempts by the president to do so have been blocked by the legislature and the judiciary. And yet these two bodies, which are directly involved in the impeachment process have decided to grant the salary increase at this critical moment.

Meanwhile, among the MPs in Congress, who voted for the impeachment of President Dilma, a majority of them are facing criminal proceedings before the Supreme Court themselves. This is also the case with a large number of members of the Senate, who will decide whether to put President Rousseff on trial on 11th of May.

As if that were not enough, there are serious allegations of corruption against the president of Congress, whose judicial request for withdrawal was formulated more than four months ago, but the Supreme Court, responsible for the prosecution process, remains inert and at the same time has refrained from initiating his trial. Likewise, the president of the Senate also faces serious allegations of criminal charges yet to be judged by the Supreme Court.

Given the current institutional crisis, a minimum of morality should be observed, as the constitutional principles, set out in Article 37 of the constitution, intended to guide all public administration in Brazil, are being overrun. These are the principles of legality, impersonality, morality, publicity and efficiency. It seems far from appropriate to be discussing an increase in the salaries of Supreme Court judges at a time when they are charged with the mission of judging whether or not to commence impeachment proceedings at the Senate level against the president of the Republic.

The Supreme Court is the highest court of the Brazilian justice system and has a constitutional mission to judge and monitor compliance with the Federal Constitution. Judges are to examine legally if they will agree to the political process of the removal of the President. Whether the vice-president may or may not appoint new ministers of state or institute another government, will also depend on a political decision by parliamentarians, without consideration of the popular vote.

Article 2 of the Brazilian Constitution states that “the branches of the Union are the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary, which are independent and harmonious with each other.” However, what we are in fact seeing is an ongoing involvement in a dangerous game between the Legislative and the Judiciary in an attempt to carry through impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff. This process is being sponsored directly by parliamentarians, where several in fact are facing accusations of corruption both in the Lower House and in the Senate, with the silence of the judges who should rule on their cases.

Therefore in my view, the extemporaneous granting of salary increases for judges, exhibits even more evidence of the breakdown of the democratic order in Brazil.


Image supplied by Jorge Rubem Folena de Oliveira

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