President Lula da Silva has deepened the ethical crisis in the Brazilian senateby pressuring senators of his Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) to defendhis political ally, the president of the senate José Sarney, of the allied Partidodo Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB). Lula’s tactic of preventingthe opposition from finally starting a senatorial investigation into allegedcorruption in Brazil’s state-controlled energy company Petrobras, whichcould have consequences for his hopes of electing his successor next year,could create a generalised institutional crisis in Brazil.
PT senators had come out in force earlier last week to demand Sarney’s resignation,as further details of the ongoing corruption scandal in the senate suggestedSarney has been deeply implicated in wrongdoing [WR-09-24]. Onlythree of the PT’s 12 senators were still siding with Sarney earlier last week, followingrevelations that seven of his relatives were on the senate payroll withoutactually working there and that his family’s domestic staff were being paidby the senate. Meanwhile, the federal police accused one of his grandsons,Adriano Sarney, of illegally mediating the granting of special loans by the senate’sadministration (which was appointed by Sarney in the mid-1990s) as thenewspaper O Estado de São Paulo uncovered that Sarney had not declared theownership of properties to the electoral court, as mandated by law.Opposition and many allied senators asked Sarney to resign or at least takea leave of absence while the allegations are investigated, including a majorityof PT senators. But under pressure from Lula, many in the PT changedtheir initial position late last week. This followed a meeting between Sarneyand Lula’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, who Lula hopes will succeed himin 2010 with the PMDB’s support. The meeting was held in secret, but thelocal press has speculated that Sarney was categorical that if he was forcedto step down the senatorial investigation on Petrobras would finally take off.The investigation would be bad press for Rousseff, who appointed many ofPetrobras’s management while serving as mines and energy minister duringLula’s first term.
The speculation seemed to make sense. On his return to Brazil from a trip toLibya, Lula accused the opposition of using Sarney as a scapegoat with theaim of taking control of the senate presidency. Indeed, the next in line to suc-ceed Sarney is the opposition Senator Marconi Perillo, of the Partido da SocialDemocracia Brasileira (PSDB).
Lula’s declaration, however, was not completely correct. Perillo’s presidencywould be a temporary arrangement, since under the senate’s regulations anew election for the post would have to be held within a month after Sarneyleft the chair. Still, this would give the PSDB enough time to finally initiate asenatorial investigation on Petrobras.
With Sarney’s help, the Lula administration has managed to prevent the workof the senatorial investigative committee since it was created in May anddespite protests from the opposition. It seems the prospect of the investigationgoing ahead is too threatening for the government, to the point that Lulais actively undermining the senate’s reputation and humiliating his party.After receiving an ultimatum from Lula, 10 of the PT’s 12 senators went toSarney’s house to lend him their public support.
The notable absences were Senators Marina Silva and Tião Viana. The latterlost the race for the senate presidency in February to Sarney, after Lula gavehis blessing to Sarney’s candidacy. At the time Viana, who campaigned onmaking the senate’s management more transparent, won the support of thePSDB, leaving Lula concerned that he would be more sympathetic to theopposition’s pleas in the senate. In an interview with the current affairs magazineVeja, Viana declared that Lula “is personally responsible for the crisis inthe senate.”