With 77 percent approval ratings, things could hardly be better for Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, but those numbers may be about to take a dive. The Wall Street Journal reports that early next month the Supreme Court will hear a major corruption case against members of Roussef’s Workers’ Party that is expected to dominate headlines for weeks.If the accusations at the heart of this case stick, they will hurt. The charges date back to 2005, when former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff allegedly offered regular cash bribes to various senators in return for votes. Although neither current President Roussef nor her predecessor are directly implicated, the scandal reaches high enough in the Workers’ Party that it could hurt Roussef’s image with Brazilian voters. Da Silva may have made things worse this week by allegedly asking a justice in a private meeting that the trial be delayed until after October’s elections:
No scandal has been as widespread or potentially damaging since the 1992 impeachment of former President Fernando Collor, who resigned hours before his almost certain removal from office by the Brazilian Senate on corruption charges. Nor Mr. da Silva or President Dilma Rousseff have been accused of wrongdoing, but the trial could do irreparable harm to him and to his early 1980s creation, the PT.“The PT has the most to lose from this case,” said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at São Paulo’s Tendencias consulting group. “The trial should provide an opportunity for the opposition to make electoral advances in 2014.”
Strange as it sounds, it is good news that this case has erupted so dramatically. In the old days, problems like this were often hushed up.Brazil has made major strides over the past 20 years, but the cronyism and corruption of its congressional politics is still badly in need of change. No party has a monopoly on this system-wide corruption. The ruling party, however, usually bears the most guilt, as Congress is organized in a way that makes it almost impossible to have a stable majority without paying bribes. Opportunistic politicians can charge a toll in order to support or block government initiatives—and they do.If Brazil’s Supreme Court can truly rise above political pressure to give a fair and full trial to resolve the allegations against the ruling party, it will be an important sign that Brazil’s institutional climate continues to improve. This is vital to ensure the country’s future growth.Via Meadia withholds judgment on the guilt or innocence of the defendants in this particular case, but we hope very much that a fair and transparent trial ends with the rule of law being strengthened in Brazil. Weak institutions, the absence of respect for the rule of law and a culture of corruption have done much more to hold Latin America back than any other factors. Brazil is one of the South American countries that is seriously struggling to overcome these destructive legacies, and this case offers an important opportunity to take some additional strides toward the democratic, rule based modernity that alone can give Brazil’s poor and middle class citizens a shot at the prosperity and dignity they deserve.