Supreme Court blocks re-election for heated Speaker vote

. Dec 07, 2020
congress brazil supreme court From left to right: Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, President Jair Bolsonaro, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

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Today, we talk about the future of the Brazilian Congress. And Venezuela’s move towards full dictatorship.

Supreme Court turns new leaf for Congress

Against expectations, the Supreme Court decided against allowing House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Senate President Davi Alcolumbre

to pursue another two-year term as the leaders of their respective congressional chambers. While the Constitution is clear in denying them that right, the duo expected justices to bend the rules in their favor — as they are perceived as necessary checks to President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s authoritarian tendencies.</p> <p><strong>What&#8217;s behind.</strong> Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s overt disregard for democratic institutions has given other political actors in Brazil something of <a href="">carte blanche to bend the rules</a> to their self-interest, providing the justification is to “counter Jair Bolsonaro.” In order to enhance their political influence, Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre were ready to toss Congress&#8217; rulebook aside.</p> <ul><li>Most justices were ready to allow the pair to seek re-election, saying that a change in Congress&#8217; rules is an internal issue that lawmakers could decide on their own. However, they changed their minds as public opinion increasingly went against the move.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The decision was a major win for President Jair Bolsonaro, who now has a clearer path for electing an ally as House Speaker.</p> <ul><li>The heads of both congressional houses have immense agenda-setting powers and can further or block legislation proposed by the government. Moreover, the House Speaker is the only figure in politics with the power to initiate impeachment proceedings against a sitting president.</li></ul> <p><strong>What happens to Congress now?</strong> The election for the governing board of Congress will happen on February 1, with intense negotiations set to take place between now and the vote. Arthur Lira, a lawmaker from the state of Alagoas, seems to be gaining momentum to become the next House Speaker.</p> <ul><li>Mr. Lira is a leader of the &#8220;<a href="">Big Center</a>,&#8221; a group of rent-seeking conservative parties which have lent their support in Congress to Mr. Bolsonaro. The president&#8217;s trust in him, however, comes with a grain of salt&nbsp;— as the Big Center&#8217;s allegiances tend to <a href="">shift very easily</a>. Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s dream pick for Speaker <a href="">would be Agricultural Minister Tereza Cristina</a>, an elected member of Congress, but she has been adamantly against the idea.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Venezuela&#8217;s predictable elections</h2> <p>While election results in the U.S only came through after weeks of an <a href="">excruciating vote count</a> process, in Venezuela the outcome was in no doubt before polls were opened&nbsp;on Sunday, as the ruling Socialist party swept the country&#8217;s legislative elections. Venezuela&#8217;s 27 opposition parties boycotted the vote, claiming that taking part would be &#8220;collaborating with the strategy of the [Nicolás Maduro] dictatorship.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>The boycott, backed by dozens of other countries, gave Mr. Maduro a clear path to regain control of the opposition-held National Assembly in a vote that was neither free nor fair.</li></ul> <p><strong>Questionable campaigning.</strong> Besides cementing its control over the National Electoral Council (CNE), the Maduro administration went to great lengths to ensure that an electoral loss would not be in the realm of possibilities. It tied <a href="">jobs</a> and <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=sendto_newslettertest&amp;stream=top">welfare benefits</a> to voting, with Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the ruling PSUV party saying, during a rally: &#8220;No vote, no food!’ A quarantine without eating.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>According to observers, turnout was only 20 percent or so. CNE Chairwoman Indira Alfonzo claims that the Maduro-backed coalition received 67 percent of votes, against 18 percent for opposition groups — but has not specified how many of the 277 seats each side will get.</li></ul> <p><strong>Reaction.</strong> On <a href="">Twitter</a>, Brazil&#8217;s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo didn&#8217;t pull any punches: &#8220;The Maduro regime promoted &#8216;parliamentary elections&#8217; to try and legitimize itself. It will only be legitimate to those who appreciate or condone dictatorships and organized crime.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The National Assembly is essentially a neutered body, as all of its decisions since 2017 have been overturned by government-controlled courts. Still, Sunday&#8217;s elections are yet another step towards a full dictatorship by Mr. Maduro.</p> <ul><li>Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed president, is recognized by over 50 countries (Brazil included) as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. After several failed coup attempts, he is now set to lose his role as National Assembly president — and his platform to challenge the government.</li><li>Mr. Guaidó draws less and less enthusiasm from other nations, after two years of failed attempts to take power. With this latest setback, the Venezuelan opposition appears to be left without a rallying force. &#8220;It&#8217;s not surprising that people have lost faith in an entity that calls itself a government but can&#8217;t govern,&#8221; <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=sendto_newslettertest&amp;stream=top">wrote</a> Phil Gunson, of the International Crisis Group, for the Wilson Center.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>After being the best-performing stock market in the world last month, Brazil&#8217;s Ibovespa rose for the fifth consecutive week in what has been its longest positive streak in a year. Investors&#8217; appetite for riskier assets has been fueled by positive vaccine news around the world. Last week&#8217;s biggest gains came from airlines and tourism companies, which were hit hard by the pandemic. But these rallies could be short-lived if a potential second coronavirus wave does materialize in Brazil and proves to be more severe than the first.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Airlines hoping for a vaccine more than anyone else</h2> <p>The air travel market has been one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic, and a second wave could further compromise the sector&#8217;s recovery. Domestic routes have bounced back to some extent and are expected to end the year at around 65 percent of 2019 levels. But international flights have been all but abandoned, due to fears of infection within airports and planes and, more importantly, health restrictions on foreign visitors in many countries.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4586625"><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>Vaccine. </strong>The São Paulo state government will announce its vaccination plan today for CoronaVac, the Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech. Governor João Doria has said immunization will start in January, provided that the vaccine is cleared by health regulators Anvisa. A dossier on the CoronaVac <a href="">late-stage clinical trials</a> will be sent to Anvisa in December, and it will not be necessary to apply for an emergency use license. The <a href="">CoronaVac has been a matter of contention</a> between Mr. Doria and President Jair Bolsonaro, both of whom are expected to be on the presidential ballot in 2022. Mr. Bolsonaro sees the potential success of CoronaVac as being inextricably linked to the increased political capital of his rival.</li><li><strong>Second wave. </strong>Brazil&#8217;s 7-day rolling average of new daily coronavirus deaths has inched closer to the 600 mark — making it the highest level since October 11. According to official data, 17 of 27 states have observed a spike in new deaths over the past two weeks. The rise in cases and casualties has led multiple states to tighten up some restrictive measures, and President Jair Bolsonaro warned that &#8220;in the case of a lockdown, the government won&#8217;t be able to rescue those in need.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Rio de Janeiro.</strong> The nearly 1,000 members of Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Prosecution Service will vote on who they want to lead their institution for the next two years. Interim Governor Claudio Castro will pick one of the three best-voted candidates. This election is particularly important for the Bolsonaro family — as two of the president&#8217;s sons are <a href="">under investigation</a> from state prosecutors, who fear political interference in the process of choosing a new state prosecutor general.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Economy. </strong>The Brazilian economy grew a record 7.7 percent in Q3 2020. However, the results fell <a href="">below investors&#8217; expectations</a> of 9 percent. And despite the highest single-quarter growth percentage on record, it was not yet enough to offset the coronavirus crash observed earlier in the year. Despite a recent rally, activity in many sectors remains below pre-pandemic levels.</li><li><strong>Vaccine 1.</strong> The Brazilian government revealed a preliminary version of its Covid-19 vaccination plan last week — a definitive one will only be released after it becomes clear which vaccines will obtain clearance from federal regulators. Nationwide immunization is set to start in March 2021, and two promising coronavirus vaccines (by Pfzier and Moderna) <a href="">have been ruled out</a> as they require deep freezers for storage, which are not readily available around Brazil.</li><li><strong>Vaccine 2.</strong> The Supreme Court will hold a trial on December 17 concerning the federal government&#8217;s vaccination plans. The case&#8217;s rapporteur, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski voted to force the government to explain, within 30 days, how it will &#8220;quickly, universally, and gratuitously&#8221; vaccinate all Brazilians.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Environment.</strong> A new study using satellite data mapped the impact of wildfires in Brazil over the past two decades. A whopping 18 percent of the country was impacted in that period — or three times the <a href="">size of Spain</a>. In most cases, burned areas were located on private properties and rural settlements, suggesting widespread use of fire to clear space for pastures and crops in <a href="">recently-deforested areas</a>.</li><li><strong>Death. </strong>Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez died on Sunday at the age of 80, after complications caused by lung cancer. Mr. Vázquez was the first left-wing politician to be elected president of <a href="">Uruguay</a>, and had two stints as head of state (2005-2010 and 2015-2020). Under his leadership, the country initiated a massive digital inclusion campaign for children in public schools and spearheaded searches for disappeared victims of the 1973-1985 military dictatorship.</li><li><strong>Election.</strong> The city of Macapá finally held its first round of municipal elections on Sunday, after being <a href="">cut off from the power grid</a> for weeks in October and November. The result was a bit sour for Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, as his brother Josiel qualified for the runoff stage with 29 percent of the vote&nbsp;—&nbsp;a much-lower lead than he expected. The second round will be held just before Christmas, on December 20.

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