The question of a Brazilian democracy has taken over the international narrative of the Latin American giant in recent years. Of course, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics gathered worldwide attention. Yet Brazil’s rampant corruption and subsequent political turmoil still took the main stage in news coverage.
Now, the country’s second impeachment looms upon President Temer. Western media has taken the same line they usually do when it comes to developing nations facing a crossroads. Blinded by the fantasies of democracy upon which they built their own national narratives, they impose these ideals upon other nations whose solutions might not be so simple.
The Guardian, a prime example, published an editorial titled “Brazilian corruption: the public deserve a voice.” The British publication rightly blames the politicians behind the corruption scandal. Their solution to the current establishment turmoil, however, follows the predictable Western response to conflicts in the developing world. “Let the 143 million voters have a say in how to get out of it,” the piece concluded.
Power to the people
Indeed, “power to the people” is a most appealing solution to Brazil’s troubles. Front pages feature photo spreads of the military police shutting down violent protesters calling for direct elections. The sight of anarchical outrage as a call for democracy brings out a wave of righteousness in any Westerner’s heart. It reminds them of the battles for freedom that established their own democratic institutions, which uphold their ideals of liberty and justice today. At least, that’s what their textbooks say. But alas, we’re here to talk about Brazil, not the first world order.
And to talk about Brazil, we must remember that the country has had a history of rupture with the established order. During the 20th century alone, there were 10 of those. While the direct election seems like an appealing thought, it would be just that: another rupture with the established order.
Direct elections at this moment would provoke a rise of extremism, due to the levels of tension and radicalization of the political arena. Indeed, Brazilians are fed up with everything to do with the political and economic establishment. The recession, the economy, political parties – corruption seems to have eaten away at every institution like a cancer.
Meanwhile, radical conservatives like Jair Bolsonaro are polling at record levels. A politician unscathed as of yet by the corruption scandal but an outright scathing epitome of the homophobic, sexist, and racist undertones of Brazilian society. Yet, like a certain Mr. Donald Trump, he could feed an increasingly popular frustration with the system to take over the system himself. And to what cost?
At this point, we must be practical about Brazil. There’s no possible solution that could pacify the political turmoil until at least 2019. But we need to get the country out of this in one piece, respecting the remaining institutions that we do have. Indeed, there’s a constitution to consider here. Changing it “for the right thing” would ultimately be a coup. The elections coming in 2018 present a natural transferral of power to the voice of the people. Meanwhile, the least problematic solution – at this very moment – is an indirect election within Congress.
When The Guardian calls for new, direct elections, the paper acts as if it were a simple ordeal. But in reality, direct elections would require Congress to approve an amendment to the Constitution. Meaning that two-thirds of both congressional houses would have to vote for the proposal. In an environment where members of Congress are constantly getting to the point of fistfights, such a consensus seems like a long shot.
But let’s assume it’s doable.
Then, Congress would have to approve specific laws to guide the new elections. Otherwise, we would be in a legal gray area. For example, Congress would have to exclude governors, mayors, prosecutors and judges from the race. Otherwise, per “normal” election guidelines, they would all have to quit their offices six months before election day.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a matter of calendar. Brazil has general elections scheduled for October 2018. For the new elections proposal to make sense, the amendment would have to be approved in record time. And we all know that speed voting such an important piece of legislation can’t be good.
Brazil’s institutions have failed its people. But tearing them down in the middle of a political tsunami is by no means the solution.