Brazilians have a long tradition of distrusting political parties and public institutions. But it seems that the evolution of Operation Car Wash and the Petrobras scandal have both taken this distrust to a new level. Investigations have revealed that all of the main political parties engage in corrupt (or at least unethical) practices.
According to a recent survey by MDA, a Brazilian polling institute, 91 percent of voters think that no party is free from corruption. When questioned as to who is responsible for corruption in Brazil, voters pointed to politicians (58 percent), citizens in general (25 percent), and businessmen (4 percent). When voters consider all parties as “pretty much the same,” their voting decisions become based solely on personalities. This can help explain why former President Lula da Silva takes first place in surveys for the 2018 presidential election.
Such context also helps explain the rise of candidates from outside of the existing political establishment, including São Paulo’s mayor João Doria and Congressman Jair Bolsonaro. Neither are implicated in corruption scandals, and, in the long haul, could become more competitive than Lula. Bolsonaro, for instance, already appears in second place – trailing only behind Lula. The former President, of course, is under investigation in five criminal cases. With a conviction, he could become ineligible regardless of his popularity.
Doria, on the other hand, faces a dilemma. While he is the best possible candidate for his party, PSDB, he is still inexperienced. The Constitution would force him to resign early in 2018, just over one year after taking office. Furthermore, abandoning his position as mayor could generate a backlash from São Paulo voters – 22 percent of Brazil’s total.
As we stand now, it is impossible to know how the 2018 election will unfold. Heck, it is impossible to know for sure if incumbent President Michel Temer will keep his office. Temer faces a process at Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court, which could cause his impeachment.
Since 2014, the Dilma Rousseff-Michel Temer reelection campaign has been under scrutiny for a possible “abuse of political and economic power.” Meaning: the campaign used illegal funding.
Last week, Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction company, confirmed this to the Electoral Justice. The case’s rapporteur, Justice Herman Benjamin, declared that “Odebrecht took hold of Brazilian public institutions” thanks to its bribing capacity. The company even had a division dedicated solely to that purpose.
For Brazilians, is democracy the best system?
It isn’t news that Brazilians feel a certain disgust for our political system. In 2016, the NGO Latinobarómetro published a report stating that just one-third of Brazilians prefer democracy to other forms of power.
However, we must interpret the story with nuance. José Álvaro Moyses, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo, doesn’t think Brazilians don’t like democracy. “What the Latinobarómetro survey shows is a deep disenchantment with how institutions work – especially Congress,” he says.