A new, innovative public campaign aimed at securing the removal of Brazilian President Michel Temer was launched on Monday night with a new website, at 342agora.org.br, designed to enable public pressure on Congress. The site is called “342 Now” — referring to the number of votes needed in the lower House to proceed with an investigation and ultimate removal of Temer — and its complex design allows users to send messages to every Congress member not only by email but also through their platforms on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and wherever else they may be found online.
Up until now, polls have shown that Temer is universally reviled: He reached a record-low 7 percent approval rating in the last Datafolha poll. From the moment he took power upon the impeachment of the country’s elected president, Dilma Rousseff, Temer has been embroiled in serious corruption scandals. But even for Brazil’s permissive political culture, his latest embarrassment has made his presidency unsustainable: the release of audio tapes that capture him approving bribes last March to silence a key witness in the country’s sweeping corruption investigation. Media outlets and even his fellow party members have openly spoken of his impeachment, or resignation, as a fait accompli.
Temer himself has now been formally charged with accepting bribes, making him the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be a criminal defendant while in office. And he has no friends left in the country other than (a) the Brazilian oligarchs who installed him to impose unpopular austerity measures and (b) the deeply corrupt politicians in Brasília facing their own criminal investigations, who believe that keeping him in power will protect them from their own day of reckoning. Beyond those two (admittedly powerful) groups, the whole country has abandoned Temer.
But Brazilians — exhausted by endless corruption scandals and contemptuous of the entire political class — have not yet taken to the streets to demand his removal. This new site is principally designed to provide anti-Temer voters, who constitute virtually the entire political spectrum, to apply serious pressure to members of Congress, who will vote shortly on Temer’s fate and will see that their political futures are in jeopardy if they stand behind him.
The anti-Temer campaign officially launched on Wednesday night at the Rio de Janeiro home of activist and producer Paula Lavigne and was also hosted by her husband, renowned Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. The event unveiling the new site was attended, and supported, by politicians, activists, and and many of the nation’s most influential artists from multiple parties, including Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues and Rep. Alessandro Molon of Rede party; singers Valesca Popozuda, Caetano Veloso, Rappin Hood, Mart’nália, Tico Santa Cruz, and Teresa Cristina; actors Alinee Moraes, Letícia Sabatella, Fernanda Lima, Luis Miranda, and Renata Sorrah; and deputado estudal Marcelo Freixo and Vereador David Miranda (Glenn Greenwald’s husband) of PSOL party.
Beyond those in attendance, the new campaign features a large cast of influential Brazilians from around the country endorsing Temer’s removal and urging support for the new website. Here, for instance, is Sonia Braga making her case for pressuring members of Congress:
Dozens of others from the ranks of Brazil’s best-known figures, such as actor Wagner Moura and singer Tico Santa Cruz, recorded videos and posted them far and wide on social media urging their followers to engage the site.
The centerpiece of the campaign is a sophisticated new website, created by the activist group Media Ninja, which tracks the current position of every member of Congress regarding the investigation of Temer. For every member who is listed as either “opposed” to such an investigation or “undecided” (the majority), the site allows the user, with a single click, to send an email or post content onto the members’ social media pages.
The site is half journalistic and half activism: It is a comprehensive and user-friendly means of reviewing the latest data on the anti-Temer vote, and will be updated in real time as members’ positions change, all while providing citizens an extremely easy means to apply real pressure to members of Congress.
This campaign has already deluged members of Congress with messages all over the internet, demanding that they vote in support of investigating and removing Temer. The pressure caused on Temer ally, Rep. Wladimir Costa, to go to the floor of the House yesterday and deliver a rage-driven, fearful, out-of-control diatribe against the campaign and those who endorsed it. Costa — in a video that has to be seen to be believed — referred repeatedly to the actors and musicians endorsing the program as “tramps” and “bums,” accusing them of a campaign of “intimidation.”
Like so many of his fellow Temer supporters, Costa himself is embroiled in serious corruption scandals. A lower court last June ordered that he be removed from office for violation of election laws, a decision that is pending appeal.
That it is Costa, of all people, taking the lead in denouncing this innovative campaign underscores the central challenge in removing Brazil’s president: one of self-interest. Usually, politicians will avoid doing anything that could jeopardize their political future. But in this case, Brazil’s Congress members have a much higher priority than fear of losing elections: fear of going to prison. And they believe, with good reason, that keeping Temer in power is their best way to kill the investigation that can send them to prison — just as they knew that removing Dilma would also help achieve that goal.
One problem thus far with the remove-Temer movement has been that there is little agreement on what would come after Temer is gone and, more specifically, how it would improve the lives of ordinary Brazilians. Many were told repeatedly by Brazilian media elites and others that removing Dilma was the key to turning around their fortunes, and they have watched as things have only gotten worse. That makes them wary that removing Temer, only to replace him with another corrupt mediocrity, would not change much of anything.
It is understandable why even those who despise Temer would feel unmoved to demand his removal, or would be fearful that more instability could make things worse. Why not, this reasoning suggests, just let Temer stay until the 2018 elections? Why would it be worth the risk and instability that would come from replacing him with another corrupt politician?
Among those supportive of this new anti-Temer campaign, there is complete unity on the question of whether the obviously corrupt Temer must be removed. In an interview on Friday night, Caetano told the Intercept Brasil, in reasoning common among Brazilians: “I think it would be very bad for Brazil if Temer did not leave with everything that happened. … It sets a precedent, there is a very deep self-disrespect if this happens.”
Most supporters of this new campaign are in agreement that direct elections should be held upon Temer’s removal, on the ground that — in a democracy — it is the Brazilian people who should decide who their president is. Speaking to the Intercept Brasil, Paula Lavigne put it this way: “Every day of the Temer in government is an evil, he is going to put a person in the supreme court, he will put a judge there, he will end the Lava-Jato investigation.”
But what if, as is likely, Congress is unwilling to take the steps to make direct elections happen? Should there be indirect elections, in which the corruption-awash Congress chooses the new president? Should one support the next-in-line official, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia of the right-wing Democrats Party, to serve as president through the 2018 elections — which would mean that the country elected the centrist-left PT party, had imposed on it the centrist PMDB party of Temer, and would end up with the right-wing Maia, all without an election?
That is where divisions start to arise. And that lack of unified vision, in turn, has made it difficult for a scandal-exhausted public — which hates Temer and wants him gone — to really feel that removing Temer before the 2018 election would improve their lives.
Some believe — in an argument that tracks the U.S. debate over Donald Trump’s impeachment among his opponents — that it’s better to leave Temer in place because (like Trump) he is so weakened by scandal that — in contrast to stronger operatives such as Maia (or Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence) — he is unable to get anything done.
But others take a different view: that because Temer is already so unpopular, and continues to be supported by the nation’s oligarchs, he is uniquely able to impose austerity, and may be more harmful than the alternatives. In an interview on Friday night, Caetano took this view in response to this question: “I think that Rodrigo Maia will not have the same ease of Temer [to approve austerity reforms]. And I’ll say beyond that, Rodrigo Maia is better able to conduct a more civilized discussion of these reforms than Temer. Temer is a ghost of the past. ”
Whatever else is true, it is impossible to imagine how a country that envisions itself an advanced democracy can possibly continue to have as its president someone who literally got caught on tape approving bribes. How do Brazilian media and economic elites possibly think there will ever be any legitimacy in the political system when they allow a blatant criminal to remain in power?
That question is even more compelling given that this corrupt official ascended to power only when these same elites removed the actually elected president by pretending to be offended by her corruption (even Temer later admitted that the real reason for her impeachment was ideological — i.e., she wouldn’t approve the level of austerity they wanted). Do Brazilian elites think the population will not notice this grotesque dishonesty?
It is always worth remembering that Temer’s closest ally in Brasília, Romero Jucá, got caught on tape admitting that the “national pact” — in which the military, the courts, and the media were conspirators — was to kill Lava Jato once Dilma was removed and Temer empowered. That’s exactly what Temer has been doing, and what he continues to do.
If you are a corrupt member of Congress whose overarching goal is to stay out of prison, you need a very good reason to vote to remove Temer, who has done so much to protect the corrupt of Brasília. That is where this new campaign comes in: It hands a very loud megaphone to Brazilian citizens to make very clear that they do not accept the continued presidency of someone who was not elected to that office and who is, above all else, devoted to the protection of the officials in Brazil who are as corrupt as he is.
And while one cannot say for certain what the outcome would be once Temer is removed, it is difficult to imagine outcomes that could be worse. After all, how can there be a worse result than a supremely corrupt, retrograde official whom the entire population despises and who brings international shame to the country? While it is hard to imagine what worse could result, it is easy to see that removing Temer could lead to all sorts of positive outcomes. If nothing else, a country that cares about democracy deserves far better than Michel Temer, and deserves it quickly.