Brazil moved a step closer to a constitutional crisis on Tuesday as the head of the Senate refused to abide by a Supreme Court Justice ruling stripping him of his powerful post. A defiant Sen. Renan Calheiros told reporters he won’t recognize a decision handed down late Monday by a single high-court judge. The clash could mean the beginning of the countdown for president Michel Temer weak administration and his fiscal reforms program
The preliminary ruling suspended Mr. Calheiros as president of Brazil’s Senate following his recent indictment on embezzlement charges. The refusal was endorsed by the entire Senate leadership, which comprises members of major parties.
“It’s a monocratic decision” by a lone judge, Senator Calheiros said in a brief afternoon news conference in the capital. “Democracy doesn’t deserve this outcome, not even in Brazil.”
Brazil’s Senate canceled its legislative session on Tuesday while the chamber’s lawyers filed an appeal to the full Supreme Court asking the 11-member body to overturn the decision of Justice Marco Aurélio Mello. The court is set to take up the matter in a plenary session on Wednesday.
If upheld by the full court, Calheiros’s suspension could present a major challenge for President Michel Temer’s efforts to get unpopular austerity measures through Congress to help close a worrisome budget deficit.
Calheiros’ potential replacement, Sen. Jorge Viana, is a member of the populist Workers’ Party, or PT, which was recently toppled from power with the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff. The PT has vowed to do all it can to derail president Temer’s agenda after he helped lead the controversial effort to oust his former ally. But Viana was among the Senate leaders supporting Mr. Calheiros’s stand against the judge’s ruling.
Law experts on Tuesday were stunned by the flat-out refusal of Calheiros and Senate leaders to abide by the ruling of a high-court justice—albeit a preliminary one—marking a new low in Brazil’s long-running political drama. In Brazil, the ruling of even a single judge is considered binding unless and until the full court decides on the issue.
“There is a constitutional crisis,” said Daniel Vargas, a law professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. “There is a war between powers, and in such [a] war there are no winners, we all lose.”
Tension between Brazil’s judicial and legislative branches has been building for months, stemming from the epic graft probe that has implicated at least 50 sitting politicians, including Mr. Calheiros, who denies wrongdoing.
The investigation, Operation Car Wash, has rocked the highest levels of Brazil’s business and political establishment and led to lengthy jail terms for a slew of powerful defendants.
With the probe marching relentlessly toward congress, lawmakers have launched legislation aimed at hobbling prosecutors and judges. That in turn has sparked outrage from the Brazilian public and threats by prosecutors to resign from the case.
Senator Calheiros has become a particular focus of anger. Suspected by authorities of pocketing millions in bribes, he is the target of more than a half dozen investigations linked to Car Wash. Calheiros has denied all wrongdoing, but in the eyes of many Brazilians, he has come to embody the casual impunity of many public officials here.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of Brazilians across the country marched in support of the Car Wash prosecutors, many calling for Mr. Calheiros’ ouster.
The explosive turn of events has caused Brazilian markets to gyrate and cast doubt on president Temer’s ability to deliver promised overhauls quickly to rebuild the nation’s damaged credibility.
“Uncertainty will now be the theme for 2017,” said Fernando Abrucio, a political scientist at Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo. “All this will end up weakening the presidency of Michel Temer.”