Vejam destaque que faço no texto para realçar o caso do Maranhão
Governors under fire
Mar 26th 2009 | SÃO PAULO
From The Economist print edition
A rash of impeachment cases against state governors is probably a good sign
WHEN Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, was impeached earlier this year, his blustering defence and determined jogging attracted attention around the world. The impeaching of state governors in Brazil gets less attention, but there is suddenly an awful lot of it going on. Between 1999—when a law was passed to stop incumbents from turning their administrations into political machines for their re-election—and the end of 2008, two state governors had their mandates revoked by Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE). Already this year, however, two more governors have been removed for campaign skulduggery. Cases against a further five are pending. So, by the end of the year, the court could have ejected seven of the country’s 27 governors.
This may be construed either as a terrible assault by the judiciary on democratic politics, or a welcome sign that long-flouted rules are at last being enforced. It certainly throws up some odd results. In both the cases where incumbents have been removed, the candidate who came second in the 2006 elections is now installed as state governor. But each in turn may face allegations of foul play that could result in the court removing them too. If so, calls for fresh elections would grow.
For more than a decade after Brazil returned to democracy in 1985, the TSE concentrated on making sure that votes were cast and counted properly. It oversaw the introduction of electronic-voting machines, which have been a great success. Brazil has avoided the long waits to vote and disputed results that have marred America’s last few presidential elections.
Now, says João Augusto de Castro Neves, a political consultant, the court is trying to improve the quality of the vote. It is helped in this, says David Fleischer, a politics professor at the University of Brasília, by the fact that it has earned a credibility that prevents its decisions from being easily challenged. Furthermore, a tacit pact that used to operate among senior politicians, in which defeated candidates refrained from bringing fraud cases against winners, seems to have broken down, giving the courts more cases to act on.
Of the seven accused governors, five have been charged with abusing their office to ensure their election. The accusations range from distributing free glasses (of the reading rather than the drinking sort) to short-sighted voters just before polling day, to straightforward bribing of voters with their own money.
All but one of the governors accused comes from the north or north-east of the country, where politics is often reminiscent of Tammany Hall, 19th-century New York’s legendarily rotten political machine. In Alagoas state, for example, the local electoral court says vote-buying is so widespread that voters sometimes lodge complaints when politicians do not pay up after an election. Many voters in the north and north-east are illiterate, and depend for news on radio and television stations that are owned by politicians. And there is a mighty spoils system. When the electoral court made José Maranhão governor of Paraíba earlier this year, his first act was to replace 6,000 public servants with his own supporters.
However, the dominance of local politicians was already weakening before the electoral courts got tough. The defeat in the 2006 governor’s race in Bahia of the Magalhães family, which has one of the north-east’s strongest political machines, is the brightest bit of evidence for this. The TSE’s new assertiveness suggests that the judges are now trying to give this trend a push, even if the results are sometimes awkward. In Maranhão, for example, the court has installed Roseana Sarney as governor. Ms Sarney belongs to a local political dynasty that owns the state’s dominant television and radio stations. Her presidential bid in 2002 was derailed by the discovery of half a million dollars’-worth of banknotes at her husband’s office.
Since the introduction of stricter rules for incumbents, several hundred mayors have had their mandates revoked. The pursuit of governors is a logical next step. Still, the TSE needs to tread gently. It has already sought to make the law in two areas: preventing candidates from switching parties shortly after their election and trying to prevent parties from making different alliances at municipal, state and federal level. It should probably stick to enforcing the existing rules instead. If it succeeds, candidates may think more carefully before trying to buy votes. Brazil already sets a good example to other developing countries in running relatively clean and orderly elections. If its courts continue to raise standards, the benefits could be felt beyond its own borders.