Brazil: President ousted by Senate

As expected, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been ousted by a vote of the Senate following her impeachment trial.

Not much time for blogging right now (as has been the case for a while–obviously), but a few quick observations follow.

I said at the time that she needed to lose her reelection bid; it was quite close. While some folks are looking at this and saying it shows why Brazil should have adopted a parliamentary system, I actually think presidentialism serves Brazil pretty well. I admit it is harder (again) to make that case this year.

Another way of stating my point is that the PT was quite good for Brazil for 12 years. The PT needed presidentialism to make it into power. And, no, I know I am not supposed to evaluate a regime type based on who wins (although I liked presidentialism here better as soon as Obama won!). But I really think parliamentartism in Brazil would be an ugly mess; the PT is one of the few major parties that is at all programmatic. And it probably would have been consigned to permanent opposition under a parliamentary regime, with shifting coalitions based on particularism and cronyism and not much on policy responsibility.

In any case, actual parliamentarism was never really on the table in the period following military rule, as far as I know. Back in the 1980s when the current constitution was drafted, what was called the “parliamentary” option actually was semi-presidential. And that might not be such a bad option for Brazil, but given the nature of the party system, it would still likely lean pretty strongly presidential, more-or-less regardless of the formal powers.

Of all the news stories I pulled up in searching on this, I noticed that most of them said that the Brazilian Senate had “impeached” the president today. As I understand that term, no, she was impeached already by the Chamber. The term means to bring charges, after all. Today she was convicted and removed.

And, no, it is not a “coup”. This follows the constitutional procedures. Whether the charges are “valid” or not is a separate question; the constitutional bodies with the responsibility in such cases said they were.

Some have said it is a bad precedent. The main precedent is it’s really bad to fail to retain even one third of the legislators’ backing, even if you have a “fixed” term.



Brazil: Early elections instead?

Further regarding the impeachment and possible removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff…

There is now a constitutional amendment being proposed by some senators that would result in an early election for president and vice president in October this year, rather than having the current VP take over in event of removal of the incumbent president.

In principle, I don’t like procedures that allow a VP to assume office following impeachment (resignation, death, etc.)–even less when it is common for the VP to be from a coalition partner (or former one, in current Brazilian case.) In fact, I’d say don’t even have a VP; I prefer early elections, although I can imagine that option creating some perverse incentives of its own. However, altering the constitution in the midst of an impeachment process doesn’t seem like a good idea.

The proposal is to have early presidential/VP elections this October. The sponsors have not decided whether this would be for would be for two years (the remainder of the current term) or a full four-year new term. If the latter, Brazil would go back to non concurrent elections, which would be an especially bad idea.

The possibility of early elections is already raised by the Brazilian constitution, however, although only in the unlikely event that the offices of both the president and the vice president are vacant:

Article 81. In the event of vacancy of the offices of President and Vice-President of the republic, elections shall be held ninety days after the occurrence of the last vacancy.

Paragraph 1. If the vacancy occurs during the last two years of the President’s term of office, the National Congress shall hold elections for both of ces thirty days after the last vacancy, as established by law.

Paragraph 2. In any of the cases, those elected shall complete the term of office of their predecessors.

Note that if this provision were ever in force, the president would be elected for only the remainder of the current term, thus restoring concurrent elections at the next election. However, the proposed constitutional amendment evidently could end up calling for four year terms, starting in 2016, whereas congress is elected every four years, with the next one being 2018.

I have no idea if the amendment stands any chance of passage. It takes just 3/5 votes of both chambers to amend the constitution. Ratification by states or voters is not required.

There is yet another way an early election could be called: by the Superior Electoral Court. In a separate (as far as I know) case, there is an investigation into election irregularities from the 2014 reelection of Rousseff.

Via Inter-Press Services:

If the 2014 elections outcome is challenged, new elections will be held. But experts believe that this ruling will not come until 2017, and in that case it would be Congress that would elect the new president and vice president who would complete the current term until 2018.

I find it quite extraordinary that the electoral tribunal could invalidate an election halfway–or even later–through the elected incumbent’s term.

The Brazilian impeachment (constitutional provisions)

As almost anyone who would read this blog surely knows, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on 17 April. The case now moves to the Senate, which could try and remove her if it concurs with the charges.

The impeachment process in Brazil is similar to that of the USA, but differs in very important detail. First it takes a two-thirds vote in the first chamber, unlike the US where the House of Representatives impeaches (brings formal charges) against the President by majority. In both countries, it takes two thirds of the second chamber (senate) to convict and remove.

The key provisions of the Brazilian constitution are from Article 51:

It is exclusively the competence of the Chamber of Deputies… to authorize, by two-thirds of its members, legal proceeding to be initiated against the President and the Vice-President of the Republic …

And Article 52:

It is exclusively the competence of the Federal Senate… to effect the legal proceeding and trial of the president and vice-president of the republic for crime of malversation…
Sole paragraph. in the cases provided for in items i and ii, the chief Justice of the supreme federal court shall act as president and the sentence, which may only be issued by two-thirds of the votes of the federal senate, shall be limited to the loss of of ce with disquali cation to hold any public of ce for a period of eight years, without prejudice to other applicable judicial sanctions.

Another nontrivial different from US procedure is that the president of Brazil can be suspended from office upon impeachment, even before the Senate trial has begun. The conditions for impeachment and trial are further laid out in the section of the constitution concerned with executive authority.

Article 85:

Those acts of the president of the republic which attempt on the federal Constitution and especially on the following, are crimes of malversation:
I – the existence of the Union;
ii – the free exercise of the legislative power, the Judicial power, the public Prosecution and the constitutional Powers of the units of the Federation;
III – the exercise of political, individual and social rights; IV – the internal security of the country;
V – probity in the administration;
VI – the budgetary law;
vii – compliance with the laws and with court decisions.
Sole paragraph. These crimes shall be de ned in a special law, which shall establish the rules of procedure and trial.

I have not seen the law referenced in that “sole paragraph”, so I do not know what further conditions or elaborations may be stated therein. I also have not seen the bill of impeachment itself, so I do not know if it cites on of the above causes. However, the reporting on the impeachment generally emphasizes charges over manipulation of accounts. More specifically (in Portuguese) that she did not respect the law of fiscal responsibility.

Article 86:

If charges against the president of the republic are accepted by two- thirds of the chamber of deputies, he shall be submitted to trial before the supreme federal court for common criminal offenses or before the federal senate for crimes of malversation.
Paragraph 1. The President shall be suspended from his functions:
ii – in the event of crimes of malversation, after the proceeding is instituted by the federal senate.

I welcome discussion from those following the case closely regarding the process, and evaluations of the charges themselves.

Breaking ties

One of our students, Saul Cunow, currently in Brazil sends along this interesting tidbit:

In every municipal election there are 1-2 municipalities [among Brazil’s 5000+] where the leading candidates for mayor tie. Per the constitution, the tie-breaker is age — the older candidate wins. Apparently, age is also used as a tie-breaker in civil service exams and elsewhere as well.

Grumpy about the Brazilian election

From The Globe and Mail, regarding Sunday’s congressional elections in Brazil:

With 1.3 million ballots cast in his favour, a professional clown named Tiririca won more votes than any other candidate in Sunday’s elections. It’s the second-highest tally ever recorded in Brazil’s history. […]

He may not be able to serve, however:

The constitution requires that lawmakers be able to read and write, and the weekly newsmagazine Epoca alleged in a recent article that Tiririca is illiterate. A last-minute legal challenge failed to remove him from the ballot, but electoral authorities say he could still lose his congressional seat if his literacy is lacking.

In any case, his high vote total was enough to win at least five seats for his list:

The Chamber’s “open-list” system of proportional representation allocates seats to parties based on the total number of votes won by their candidates. Tiririca’s whopping victory means four or more fellow candidates from his Party of the Republic (PR) could ride into office on his coattails.

Critics complain that the open-list system favours celebrity or novelty candidates, but novelty is no guarantee of success. Adriely Fatal, a 23-year-old stripper who attracted some media attention, failed to win a seat in the Ceara state assembly. A member of the Christian Workers Party, Ms. Fatal had pledged to open a strip club in every town.

While it is nice to see a mainstream media account refer to the open-list electoral system, the kind of result reported in this account did not depend on the open list. As long as Grumpy advertised the PR as his party, on which he was number one on the list in Sao Paulo, his personal vote still would be sufficient to elect the same number under a closed list as under an open list.

A more interesting question is whether, in case he is deemed ineligible, the preference votes he brought to his list would be deducted from the votes of his party (given that the open list permits us to know just how many votes each candidate contributed)? I do not know Brazilian law, but one sentence in the report implies this could be the case. It says, “Whether Tiririca takes his seat could affect the power balance in the next Chamber of Deputies.” If his potential ineligibility affects only him, and not the total number of votes counted for the list, then the resolution of the case against him changes nothing. The list would elect the same number of candidates, only without its clown head.

Brazil election 2010

The only real question in Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil is whether Dilma Rousseff, the candidate of the incumbent Workers Party (PT), will win in one round or two. Two-term Persident Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, the founder and till now only presidential candidate of the PT, is barred constitutionally from running again.

The congressional elections will be interesting to watch. The PT takes advantage of “presidentialization” and “electoral separation of purpose” about as brilliantly as any party could. It has a now proven record of being able to build one coalition large enough to win national majorities to elect the president, while retaining its niche appeal as a cohesive leftist party in congressional elections. Its president then builds coalitions with other parties in order to govern. These coalitions and governing choices are not always to the congressional party’s liking, but it’s better to not like your president’s choices than not to have the presidency. A party so small could never dominate the executive branch in a parliamentary democracy.

The following graph shows the relationship between presidential and congressional votes of the PT in each congressional district (state) in the 1994-2006 period. Only in a few cases does the PT congressional vote come even close to the presidential vote in that state.

ESP in Brazil's PT

Consider that in 2006, Lula won 49% of the first round vote in his reelection bid, and 61% in the runoff. Yet in the Chamber of Deputies elected the same day as the first round, the PT won 15% of the vote and 83 of the 513 seats. In 2002 it had been similar: Lula won 46% in the first round and 61% in the second, with the PT winning 18% of the Deputies vote and 92 seats.

In fact, the votes of the presidential and congressional “branches” of the PT were negatively correlated in 2006! That is, where Lula gained votes, his party lost votes. He and his party really have learned how to fish in different ponds.

The graph and the references to “presidentialization” and “electoral separation of purpose” come from David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.