Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello ruled to remove Brazil’s Senate President Renan Calheiros from office. The Senate, however, has refused to accept the decision. High officials of the upper house stated that the ruling is only temporary, and needs confirmation from the other ten justices before coming into effect – which could happen as early as tomorrow.
Members of the government’s coalition say that Calheiros is pivotal to approve the federal administration’s reform packages. The Senate’s Vice-President, Senator Jorge Viana, is a member of the Workers’ Party – the government’s most fierce opposition party. He declared that he won’t necessarily support the federal administration’s agenda.
In theory, Justice Mello could order the arrest of Senate President Renan Calheiros for disobeying a judicial order from the country’s highest court. Supreme Court Chief Justice Carmem Lúcia has summoned an emergency meeting with other members of the court.
In a country that loves soap operas, nothing has dragged on with more plot twists than the country’s current political crisis. There is no historical parallel to the events that have recently transpired in Brazil.
While it is outraging to see a Parliamentary House refusing to obey the Supreme Court, is true that Justice Marco Aurélio Mello could have spared us the drama. Individual Supreme Court decisions need confirmation by the ensemble of the court. Mello could have followed the example of Justice Teori Zavascki, who in May removed Eduardo Cunha from his position of House Speaker. At the time, Zavascki ruled that his decision would be effective only after the approval of his peers.
An Institutional War
The act by the Senate is essentially a declaration of war on the justice system. Since last week, Congress has been at odds with federal prosecutors and judges. The lower house approved anti-corruption legislation which included an article to curb abuses by judges.
The move was considered an act of intimidation against the officials conducting investigations against corrupt politicians. One day later, the Supreme Court decided to prosecute Senate President Renan Calheiros on corruption charges.
Last week, Michel Temer declared that “Brazil doesn’t have solid institutions.” He was spot on. What is happening in Brazil right now is the textbook definition of “Banana Republic.”
Amidst all the drama in Brasília, the government’s economic team has launched an operation to calm markets. Brazil’s Finance Minister, Henrique Meirelles, has reached out to foreign investors to discuss the possibility of postponing the approval of a federal spending cap.