Brazil’s Supreme Court launched new investigations into dozens of politicians on Tuesday that include members of President Michel Temer’s cabinet and leaders of both upper- and lower-houses of Brazil’s Congress. Among those targeted by the investigation are Eliseu Padilha (Temer’s chief of staff), Moreira Franco (Secretary-General), and the ministers for foreign affairs, agriculture, and commerce and trade.This maneuver being carried out by the country’s supreme court is set to further destabilize an already crippled political class.
The latest wave of investigations is linked to the so called Operation Car Wash. With over dozens of politicians, ministers, and business elites caught in the investigation’s web, this new phase of investigation proves this operation to be the gift that keeps on giving.
But at what cost?
Temer’s Presidency in Legal Trouble
The recent serving of fresh investigations comes just days after Brazil’s president dodged a vote that could strip of his position. Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) postponed its ruling in a case that may have removed Michel Temer from the presidency (and continued to bar former president Dilma Rousseff). The delay occurred so that the court could hear additional testimonies. This strategy however plays into Temer’s defense, which seeks to postpone the ruling (now set for early May) potentially until after the next round of elections. This would effectively leave Temer open to rule as president while potentially having no legal grounds to do so.
Temer’s presidency has been mired with scandal as each time court investigations cast light onto the political class, the light exposes deeper and more intricate layers of corruption and embezzlement.
This in turn has spurred increased constituent mobilizations, particularly the country’s poor feels that austerity cuts geared at the social net are hypocritical in the light of a rich and wasteful political elite. March ended with mobilizations that drew more than a hundred thousand people across 26 state capitals. This mobilization has only been one of many, and came after a national strike geared against the Temer presidency and his austerity agenda.
Meanwhile, country’s economy continues to struggle, despite a number of reforms by president Michel Temer to cut off dead federal weight. While inflation has dropped more than five percent since 2016, interest rates remain the highest of any G-20 economy at 12.25 percent. A partial recover has allowed financial forecasts to predict that this year will mark the first time in two years that Brazil will create economic growth – at a humble 0.5 percent. Hardly the winning horse that it was before the commodity super cycle came to a close, nevertheless a step in the right direction for the market.
However, it must be kept in mind that each step that allowed this development in turn created more resentment and alienation at the grassroots. Especially when the middle-class status of much of the grassroots was bought off the limited social web these market improvements are diminishing, while the political elite stuffed its pocket’s.
What Happens Next in Brazil
While Temer has a laundry list of reforms he hopes to pass, with the time he has left in office (a time bought through political maneuvering as the electoral courts are gunning for him) and the loss of many of his lieutenants and captains to court investigations it is more than doubtful that he will be able to accomplish much of his plans. The consolidation of the post-PT (Worker’s Party) state seems hardly complete as the judiciary branch attempts to block maneuvering by the executive and the legislative branches. The return of Dilma Rousseff is not a realistic scenario, but one can wager that the judiciary will do everything in its power to continue unrolling investigatory results that hamper the plans of Temer and other agents of austerity to cut back the (small) social state the PT was able to erect during its tenure.
While the economy struggles to regain a firm footing, the results of Operation Car Wash, or the illegal activities of a variety of political actors, have been devastating to the country. Regardless of where one lies on the political spectrum, all major contenders in the country’s apparatus of power have been smeared and sullied by the seemingly endless investigation. As senator Jorge Viana, who is also being investigated, said “the political crisis will deepen and we risk an institutional paralysis because the entire Brazilian political system is under question.”
This questioning of the political system will have serious effects, especially as the senior and most experienced level of the political class is being cut (and this includes all of its most tailored and groomed politicians). This kind of political decapitation will have far-reaching effects as serious political contenders (or capable leaders, to say the least) will be few and far between. And if Brazilians are angered that the current batch seems incompetent, one must wonder what will happen when the fresh batch steps up to the plate.