It seems an appropriate moment to look at reform of the political system, as it becomes increasingly clear to even the meanest intelligence that in Brazil politics is a synonym for theft, embezzlement and corruption, not to mention ignorance and arrogance.
The political system itself is an unremarkable federal presidential constitutional republic, although it is said that “due to a mix of proportional voting (the only first-past-the-post elections are for the 1/3 of senate seats every 8 years and for mayors in small and medium-sized cities every 4 years), the lack of election threshold and the cultural aspects of Latin American caudillismo–coronelismo, party politics in Brazil tends to be highly fragmented.” (Wikipedia).
Greg Michener wrote, as far back as in 2013, “ I also highlighted the private-regarding nature of parties, who binge at the trough of government largess, blackmailing governments for more positions and pork while weakening meritorious presidential initiatives.” (Observing Brazil, 27/1/13) The mechanism which generates such a plethora of substantially incompetent political parties is clearly broken and needs fixing.
But I believe that what turns it into a fiasco of biblical proportions is a political culture which is not yet mature enough to effectively police the system against the scum that often rises to the top, and legislation which both allows them to get there and protects them when they are ensconced.
If we take just a couple of examples, the problem may be clearer. The latest in a woefully long line of corruption stories involves the President of the Chamber of Deputies, who has (alledgedly) been caught with his hand in the cookie jar (Swiss banks accounts for himself and his family and allegations of receiving R$5m in Petrobras bribes). Outside of Brazil, he would be mercilessly hounded into retirement, suspended from carrying on his duties from the minute the news broke. In Brazil, life goes on as normal, as it does for all the other politicians currently under investigation. The President, meanwhile, even though she presided over Petrobras during the time everyone was helping themselves to millions, is content to say that she knew nothing about it and carry on regardless. Outside Brazil, she would have been forced to resign at the merest sniff of such incompetence or impropriety, on the principle of ‘the buck stops here’; in Brazil, it is accepted – along with all the other institutionalized incompetence and impropriety.
And this is the real issue, perhaps: the institutionalization of lack of responsibility; of the lack of accountability. The politicians believe impunity is their right, and the electorate accept their representatives’ ignorance and incompetence as unconcernedly as it does their arrogance, while legislation seems unable to put things right (perhaps this is unsurprising, when you realize that it is the same people who are stealing all the money that are responsible for the legislation).
As Dr Janaina Paschoal said in a recent
interview about the current ruling party, “Eles lidam com as coisas públicas como se fosse deles e não como se fosse do povo…Eles entendem que o país é deles e aqueles podem fazer o que eles querem” (“They manage [public resources] as if they belonged to them and not to the people of Brazil…They believe the country is theirs and they can do as they please.” (Ficha Social, 30/9/15)
She is right, but I do not believe she goes far enough – where does the responsibility really lie – with the useless politicians, or the useless voters? After all, it has been ingrained in
Brazilian culture over centuries that you look after yourself and only yourself. No-one else matters, and you should not trust them, help them, or even take any notice of them – unless you can get something out of it right now.
If I had a vote I would be hoping Dr Paschoal might run for election…