There’s a way to oust Bolsonaro. But it’s not an impeachment

. May 23, 2020
President Jair Bolsonaro (right) and VP Hamilton Mourão, in the background. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR President Jair Bolsonaro (right) and VP Hamilton Mourão, in the background. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

On May 21, the Workers’ Party filed an impeachment request against President Jair Bolsonaro — the 35th such petition now sitting on House Speaker Rodrigo Maia’s desk. The party bases its document on the accusations made by former Justice Sergio Moro, who claimed Mr. Bolsonaro tried to illegally meddle with the Federal Police. The request, however, is merely rhetorical, and has absolutely no chance of moving forward.

While impeachment talks have stopped being taboo in Brasília, it remains far from a tangible reality, for a few reasons. Despite his rising rejection rates, Mr. Bolsonaro has managed to hold on to the support of a sizable 25-to-30 percent of the electorate — not a huge amount, but probably enough to keep him in office. Furthermore, Brazil is facing its worst pandemic in a century and opening impeachment proceedings would completely halt the federal administration — making a bad situation even worse. Thirdly, there is the “Mourão Risk.” Unlike past impeachments, this time around, no one knows exactly what to expect from the Vice President, retired Army General Hamilton Mourão.

</p> <p>Since taking office, Gen. Mourão has been framed as a voice of reason within the administration. Last year, he helped <a href="">mend otherwise tense relations</a> between Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s camp and Beijing, and has been willing to praise the work of political journalists on multiple occasions, while the president spearheads a <a href="">crusade against the press</a>. He has also established a dialogue with productive sectors during the pandemic, but without asking business owners to <a href="">stage a &#8220;war&#8221; against state governors</a>.</p> <p>Yet, calling Mr. Mourão a moderate is a stretch. Just two and a half years ago, addressing a meeting of freemasons, he suggested that a <a href="">military intervention</a> might be “necessary” in Brazil.</p> <p>With many doubts around the VP, several actors in Brasília ponder an alternative solution to get rid of Mr. Bolsonaro —&nbsp;ousting General Mourão in the process and leading to new presidential elections. The cue was given in April by Senator Renan Calheiros, a man who knows the <a href="">ins and outs of Brazilian politics</a> like few others. According to columnist Lauro Jardim, Mr. Calheiros <a href="">said in a conversation</a> that &#8220;the shortcut to remove Jair Bolsonaro is by going through the Superior Electoral Court.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img src="" alt="Mourão risk is holding back impeachment proceedings. Photo: Romério Cunha/VPR" class="wp-image-40191" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>&#8220;Mourão Risk&#8221; is holding back impeachment proceedings. Photo: Romério Cunha/VPR</figcaption></figure> <h2>Easier said than done</h2> <p>There are two lawsuits pending against Mr. Bolsonaro in the electoral court — both of which could end up nullifying the 2018 election, removing the president and VP from office in one fell swoop. The cases revolve around a network of businesses that illegally hired social media companies to send <a href="">hundreds of millions of messages</a> to voters attacking Mr. Bolsonaro’s rivals during the 2018 campaign. According to Folha de S.Paulo investigative reporter Patricia Campos Mello, each &#8220;pack&#8221; of messages <a href="">cost up to BRL 12 million</a>. One of the firms allegedly involved is retailer Havan — owned by a fervent supporter of the president, <a href="">Luciano Hang</a>.</p> <p>The scheme could lead to impeachment as this support from companies was not declared, and legal entities are forbidden from funding political campaigns. It would characterize a so-called &#8220;abuse of economic power,&#8221; an electoral crime.</p> <p>According to electoral law expert Francisco Octávio de Almeida Prado Filho, Brazilian legislation punishes candidates found guilty of this offense with the annulment of their election —&nbsp;as a way to level the playing field. &#8220;This crime is widespread, and it can be applied to the irregular use of vehicles or cases in which campaign spending exceeds the legal cap,&#8221; he says.</p> <p>But using the electoral courts to remove the president will not be easy.</p> <p>President Bolsonaro&#8217;s lawyer, <a href="">Karina Kufa</a>, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that there is no proof directly linking the president&#8217;s campaign committee to the messaging scheme. &#8220;It is out of order. Everything that happened in the campaign was organic,&#8221; said Ms. Kufa.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another electoral law expert heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, who asked to remain anonymous, also pointed out that the plaintiff&#8217;s case is poorly constructed, making many inferences without pointing to hard evidence. &#8220;It is necessary to prove there was a coordinated effort between Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s camp and Mr. Hang. The legal arguments presented offer no such thing. Not even close to it,&#8221; he says.</p> <h2>A congressional front</h2> <p>The WhatsApp scandal during the campaign sparked a parliamentary hearings committee to investigate the use of fake news for political purposes. The committee&#8217;s rapporteur, Congresswoman Lídice da Mata, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that there is <a href="">proof</a> that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s sons stepped out of bounds. &#8220;There is strong evidence that [Congressman] Eduardo Bolsonaro and his brother, [Rio City Councilor] Carlos Bolsonaro, are involved in creating fake news and spreading hate speech. According to the investigations, it is clear that Eduardo Bolsonaro&#8217;s office helped spread false information,&#8221; says Ms. Mata.</p> <p>According to her, the evidence was brought by Facebook — and consists of an account operated from a computer within Eduardo Bolsonaro&#8217;s office.&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite the weak evidence, Mr. Bolsonaro should not expect any sympathy from the Electoral Justice. In the recent past, the president criticized the electoral system, claiming, without evidence, that the 2018 election was rigged, saying that he had won in the first round. If judges are required to be impartial, we know that they are human and will not look favorably on the process of someone who questions their honesty.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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