March 29, 2016

Photo credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil (license CC BY 2.0)

The ongoing presidential corruption scandal in Brazil has inspired widespread protests, in which millions of citizens have demanded that the rule of law must apply to the country’s political leaders. Brazil’s current government appears to be so unstable at the moment that some, like U.K. newspaper the Observer, have suggested that demonstrations could lead to street violence and military intervention — perhaps echoing the country’s 1964 military coup. Brazil, however, has developed “self-correcting mechanisms” that make such a dire scenario unlikely, argue Diogo Costa and Magno Karl, leaders of the Brazilian think tank Instituto Ordem Livre, in a recent commentary for the Telegraph.

“The bizarre 1964 alliance between generals and democrats came about on the allegations that Brazilian institutions were unable to properly prevent abuses of power by the executive,” Costa and Karl write. “Today, the surprising fact is how well institutions such as the federal police and the public ministry are performing in their functions. For the first time in Brazil's democratic history, sitting politicians are being successfully prosecuted on corruption charges.”

A more apt historical comparison, they point out, would be the 1992 impeachment of Brazil’s first president, a process that put the country’s “newly formed constitutional constraints to the test.” The corruption charges against current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff are also similar to those against impeached 1992 Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello, including fraudulent government accounting, a campaign funded by alleged oil industry kickbacks, and using the political process to protect her predecessor from criminal prosecution.

“Finally, current political parties have cultivated an environment where power is more balanced than in the 60s,” Costa and Karl conclude. “If Ms Rousseff is impeached, power will be displaced to PMDB, a centrist party that has worked during the past decades as a main government stabiliser. … A PMDB government is no solution to the longer term ideological crisis of Brazil's political elite. Brazil’s anti-corruption movements have disavowed establishment politicians everywhere, and PMDB may very well be the embodiment of the political establishment itself. Nevertheless, when it comes to the impeachment process, there is very little evidence that a non-political outsider could take over Ms Rousseff’s government by force.”