Dilma Rousseff's 2016 impeachment was not the real coup. Photo: Antonio Cruz/ABr
parliamentary coup brazil michel temer senate congress

Dilma Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment was not the real coup. Photo: Antonio Cruz/ABr

When Dilma Rousseff kicked off her chaotic second term in 2015, leftist Brazilians began to talk about a coup. Supposedly, the coup was orchestrated by the right wing to remove her from office with the goal of implementing a radical austerity agenda. Of course, Rousseff’s impeachment process remains full of objectionable details: from the fact that the very congressmen who judged her unfit for office are, for the most part, battling their own corruption accusations, to the fact that one week after Temer took office, one of his closest allies was caught on tape defending a “pact” to “stop the bleeding” caused by corruption investigations.

While the impeachment process was undeniably a farce, and Michel Temer’s administration is indeed trying to implement a radical pro-business agenda, it’s tough to label the impeachment as a “coup.” Like it or not, all impeachments are politically motivated, and our corrupt congressmen did indeed have the prerogative to impeach the president. And, lest we forget, Dilma Rousseff did actually commit fiscal crimes that were punishable by impeachment.

The real coup brewing in Brazil is something different, and there are plans to change the country’s political system without necessarily asking for public opinions.

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested that the Supreme Court analyze a 1997 case that would allow Congress to turn Brazil into a parliamentary system through a change to the Constitution – instead of calling a referendum.

Moraes’ actions came days after President Michel Temer met with Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, a justice who has become notable for changing his interpretation of the law according to the defendant, and for always benefiting right-wing politicians. Coincidentally, the meeting between Temer and Mendes was not included in the president’s official public schedule.

Why change to a parliamentary system?

Brazil’s current political system is far from perfect. Its very design fragments Congress, creating a system where bribes and questionable alliances are required in order to ensure a majority. That system has been called a “presidential system of coalition” due to the necessity of a coalition to achieve minimum governability. Some also call it “presidential imperialism” because they believe presidents, who have many tactics available to control the congressional agenda, hold “too much power.”

As bad as it might be, however, this is the type of government Brazilians have chosen – not once, not twice, but three times. The first time Brazil rejected the parliamentary system was in 1963, after two years of experience. In 1987-1988, during the writing of our Constitution, the presidential system once again prevailed. Finally, in 1993, Brazilians were able to vote on a referendum between a presidential republic and a parliamentary monarchy. The latter won a measly 17 percent of votes.

The parliamentary system has always appealed to center-right parties in Brazil. Now, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in representation – with high-profile politicians either in jail or under investigation – those parties want to champion that “solution” once more. And that is a real coup.

Just 6 percent of Brazilians trust political parties, and a paltry 14 percent trust Congress. It seems far-fetched to imagine that such a change could come through a referendum – which would be the proper solution for this kind of situation.

Since Michel Temer assumed office last year, we have had a glimpse into what a parliamentary system might look like in Brazil. That picture – which consists of a leadership embroiled in scandal yet impervious to prosecution, pushing widely-criticized agendas without public support – is rather bleak.

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OpinionNov 22, 2017

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.