Political Crisis

Understand the paths that may lead to Bolsonaro’s impeachment

After the accusations laid out by former Justice Minister Moro, the president is now targeted in 28 impeachment requests

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Taking part in anti-democracy protests and not following WHO guidelines have also fueled requests for removal - Foto: Isac Nóbrega/PR

Political interference, identity theft and dereliction of duty. When announcing his exit from the Justice Ministry last Friday (24th), Sergio Moro didn’t spare accusations against Jair Bolsonaro, which in turn made the list of impeachment requests against the president grow. 

Even before the former justice minster left government, Bolsonaro had 25 impeachment requests filed against him in the Chamber of Congress up until April 22nd, according the Poder 360 website. 

With Moro’s departure, two other filings were registered,  including one from the president’s former political party (PSL), citing the crimes of dereliction mentioned by Sergio Moro. Another removal from office petition was expected to be filed on Monday, April 27th, by congressman Alessandro Molon, bringing the total up to 28.

“Faced with the president’s insistence in attacking democracy and Brazilians’ lives, we could not sit idle. Bolsonaro has gone far beyond all limits! We hope that Rodrigo Maia (speaker of the House) will accept our request for impeachment”, Molon posted on his Twitter profile. 

The trend is for the number of such demands to grow, considering the political dealings likely to occur this week. The heads of multiple parties met last Friday and decided to collectively support each individual party’s requests for the president’s exit.

In a joint statement, these political entities cited Bolsonaro’s own declarations during a press conference meant to counter Sergio Moro’s accusations. 

“The nationally televised speech the president gave Friday afternoon had no consistency. Boslonaro spent the majority of his time speaking of family issues, forgetting, that before being the head of a household, he is the head of State of the Brazilian nation. The president shows day in and day out, that he isn’t up to the tasks his office requires, especially during such a delicate moment in Brazil and the world”, says the statement. 

The speaker of the House, Rodrigo Maia, is who gets to decide if the impeachment proceedings move forward, which has not yet happened. However, last Thursday, the Federal Supreme Court asked Maia to respond within ten days to one of the filings that have till now been ignored.

According to Marcos Rogério de Souza, a member of the Brazilian Association of Jurists for Democracy (ABJD), for an impeachment request to move forward, the speaker of the House must judge the merits of the alleged crimes themselves, but also make a political calculation. 

“Unfortunately, as the process against [former president] Dilma showed, crimes of dereliction are not only a legal issue, but a political one also. In this analysis many variables must be taken into account, including how much popular support the president has. It shouldn’t be like this, it should be all based on the Constitution”, affirms Souza.

A new poll published Monday (27th) by the Atlas Político consultancy, indicates that the tides may be turning. After the public spat between former Justice Minister Moro and the president, for the first time ever, a majority of the population (54%) favors removing Bolsonaro.

At the Supreme Court

Although there is a long list of impeachment requests at the House of Representatives, a vote in Congress isn’t the only way of deposing the sitting head of State. Augusto Aras, the nation’s Attorney General, asked for the Supreme Court to open an investigation into the claims made by Sergio Moro last Friday (24th). 

The motion was accepted by the nation’s highest tribunal on Monday the 28th of April. 

Among the demands to the Supreme Court, the Attorney General asked that Moro be called in to testify in the inquiry, pointing to the possible crimes of identity theft, dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice, passive corruption, abuse of power, coercion, defamation of character and dishonor. 

 “The inquiry will run its course. Witnesses will be heard and it seems to me that a fundamental one is ex-Minister Moro, he will certainly be heard, as will the president. Documents will be compiled, other witnesses will be called forth, and a case will be built with documented proof”, explains de Souza from ABJD. 

The legal expert adds that if at the end of this process, the Attorney General presses dereliction charges against the president, he will be tried by the Senate. If he ends up accused of minor infractions, the Supreme Court will have to get permission from Congress in order to move forward with legal proceedings. 

Souza points out that in the inquiry, Augusto Aras asked that potential crimes by Sergio Moro to also be evaluated alongside those by the president.

“If there is an understanding that Moro made those pronouncements without a factual basis, he will have to answer for the crime of defamation. Both him and the president may be faced with that charge”, he relates. 

The jurist also reminds us that it was Moro’s involvement in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) anti-corruption investigation, that was widely criticized by experts and civil society, was a deciding factor in propelling Bolsonaro to the presidency of the Republic. 

“As we all know, Moro became famous in Brazil and the world for violating the Constitution, the Penal Code and legal processes. He violated several rules and rights in the name of an eventual dispensation of justice. It was selective justice that targeted the left wing leadership”. 

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, Izadora Gama Brito, a lawyer and council member of the Brazilian Lawyer’s Association (OAB), suggests that Moro was amiss in his role as Justice Minister, emphasizing the need for him to be investigated as well, regarding his recent statements. 

“Moro said that the knew all of this, and yet he failed to communicate it to the authorities, crimes which he had knowledge of. This should also be investigated. At some point he mentions that a pension was in play, that he conditioned his entry into government on that. This needs to be investigated, this is very serious”, says the lawyer. 

Gama Brito, who is also an executive at ABJD, considers that at the moment there are different legal pathways to ensure that the president is held accountable, and “impeachment is certainly one of them”. “At some point, the left and center parties were scared of this possibility, fearing it would have sever consequences on our democracy, but now this option has become a reality”, she analyzes. 

However, the lawyer also cautions about choosing this option at the moment, reminding us that in order for new elections to be held, it is necessary to impeach not only Bolsonaro but his entire mandate, which elected him and vice-president Hamilton Mourão in 2018. “At this point, if impeachment didn’t include his entire mandate it wouldn’t be of any interest. This is because Bolsonaro’s logic and practices would continue in the hands of vice-president Hamilton Mourão. In case he resigns, the same thing would happen, with the vice-president taking over”, she points out.

Brito says that impeaching the whole mandate is possible via the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which can investigate other crimes such as election fraud, the spread of fake news and monetary kickbacks during the campaign. 

“This is all there to be investigated. Maybe it’s time the TSE judge the request for the removal of the entire mandate. Then we can possibly have the Speaker of the House Rodrigo Maia temporarily take over, and soon after, new elections can be called for. In our analysis, the impeachment of the whole mandate, not just the president, would be the most democratic since it takes into account all the crimes that led him to power in the first place. At this sensitive time, we can’t let other potential crimes committed to be sidelined or minimized, they are serious allegations”, she concludes. 

Past crimes

The spread of fake news, attacks on press freedom, against national security and constitutional rights are some of the allegations that fuel the more than 20 impeachment requests against Bolsonaro, all in less than a year and a half in office. Congresswoman Fernanda Melchiona thinks that whether it be through Congress, the Supreme Court or the Electoral Tribunal, all pathways are valid in defense of democracy. 

“He wants to change the Brazilian political system. If we don’t defeat him, he will keep at it from the inside. It is an historical task to defeat him at this point”, she highlights. 

On March 18th, the legislator filed an impeachment request against Bolsonaro alongside her colleagues in Congress. The request came two days after the president took part in a rally calling for the closure of the House of Representatives. Melchiona and members of her party filed the procedure asserting the president was not following the necessary health procedures amid the covid-19 pandemic, making the Brazilian population more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The request, which was signed by more than a million people, also shed light on Jair Bolsonaro’s consistent attacks on the Constitution, with his repeated participation in anti-democratic rallies calling for the return of military rule.

Now, more than a month later, the congresswoman sees her impeachment filing as even more urgent. “In the meantime, from March to April, our allegations have only been proven. For example when the president fired [Health Minister] Mandetta for following WHO guidelines, when he took part in last Sunday’s rally alongside coup supporters with unconstitutional discourses, and when Moro lays out his political interference in the Federal Police and other public entities, only increase the amount of crimes he committed”, commented the Federal lawmaker.

The lawmaker sees the diversity of reasons for the removal requests as something positive, but also defends the “unification of all democratic voices so as to have more political power” and strengthen opposition to the government. 

Melchionna also presses on the fact that the president keeps hindering responses to covid-19, undermining initiatives on social distancing undertaken by state governors, and thus, his impeachment becomes even more necessary.  

In her view, the accusations laid out by Moro only deepen the country’s political crisis, “It’s extremely serious for a president to intervene with the Federal Police, to protect his kids and himself against the crimes they have and are committing, to be linked to militias, kickbacks to finance criminal organizations, and the political persecution of opponents through a criminal apparatus spreading fake news”, she critiques. 

Edited by: Leandro Melito