No Need for a New Constitution in Brazil

In two recent articles, published in English and Portuguese, Professor Bruce Ackerman argued that the roots of Brazil’s political crisis, with the rise of extremist factions to power, is the 1988 Constitution and the presidential system it established. Under Ackerman’s account, the best response to such crisis would be to convene a new Constituent Assembly in 2023 in order to set up a parliamentary system, while also allowing the constituent delegates to “reconsider key decisions by the Assembly of 1988”. In this article, we intend to engage in this debate by explaining why the intent to promulgate a new Constitution might make things even worse.

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Pushing the Boundaries of Legal Normality

The Brazilian Emergency Constitution is still dormant, instead “legislative and executive apparatuses” are used to “enforce measures for protecting public health”. But that does not mean, that emergency powers in Brazil are not yet in reach: While we patiently wait for the Emergency Constitution to wake up from its doctrinal sleep, legislation has already bypassed it and is venturing into uncharted territory.

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Authoritarianism Without Emergency Powers: Brazil Under COVID-19

One of the few heads of state that insist on denying scientific and epidemiologic facts concerning the spread of COVID-19 is the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. For Bolsonaro, politics comes before truth. Since the beginning of the pandemic of COVID-19, he is disseminating doubts on social media (although Twitter, Facebook and Instagram deleted some of his posts) to galvanize his radical supporters while creating a distraction for his government’s inability to implement social and economic aids to the low-income families affected by social distancing. For the moment, the president has failed to gather the public support that he needs for an extension of the emergency powers of the executive, like Orbán did in Hungary. But his authoritarian discourse has not disappeared from the horizon. On 31st March 2020, for instance, Bolsonaro celebrated the anniversary of the Coup of 1964 as a “great day for freedom”.

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While in the USA money talks loud politically, in Brazil it must shut up

Brazil used to occupy global headlines with a virtuous cycle of a struggle against inequality combined with the eradication of extreme poverty and the establishment of a vast middle class. In doing so, the country personified the South American dream, namely material prosperity allied with social progress. Nonetheless, a couple of months ago, things changed dramatically. An endless economic crisis boosted by an unprecedented operation run by the Federal Police saw to it that numerous CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies were incarcerated. The common factor of these events: campaign donations. Propelled by this atmosphere, the Brazilian Supreme Court has handed down two recent decisions that impose a drastic end to a complex set of inconvenient relations maintained between the public and the private sector.

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