The decree by Jair Bolsonaro that granted grace to his ally and federal deputy, Daniel Silveira, seems like a case study tailored for the best seller “How democracies die”, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, professors at Harvard.
The president’s unprecedented decision also raised alarms among the business community that has some appreciation for the rule of law and knows that the integrity of institutions is essential to get the economy back on track.
In an interview with Folha, Horácio Lafer Piva – a member of the board of pulp giant Klabin – said that Bolsonaro’s untimely measure “affects business, affects people’s lives, the image of Brazil abroad”.
Piva is absolutely right. After all, who in their right mind is going to invest in a country with record inflation and stratospheric unemployment, but where all they talk about is the possibility of a coup?
Levitsky and Ziblatt’s book lists a series of symptoms of the erosion of democracy. One of the most important is the disrespect for those unwritten rules, but indispensable for the functioning of democracies. One of the best-known examples took place in 2016 in the United States.
That year, Republican congressmen flouted tradition and prevented then-President Barack Obama, in his final year in office, from exercising his legitimate power to appoint a new minister to the country’s supreme court.
The maneuver, not necessarily illegal, but unprecedented, was calculated for Donald Trump to lead a conservative name to the highest court. The same Trump who years later would instill an invasion of the country’s parliament after losing at the polls.
The case of Daniel Silveira can be even worse. Common sense shows that Bolsonaro crossed a series of limits by behaving like a disgruntled monarch – even though some jurists, such as Ives Gandra Martins, defend the idea that the cold letter of the law guarantees the president the possibility of pardoning criminals, without any conditioning.
The point is: even if this literal and decontextualized interpretation of the Constitution were taken into account, is it reasonable for the president to run over a judgment of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) that has not even been formally concluded?
Is it minimally ethical for the president to appeal to an instrument that has always benefited a community – such as the inmates benefiting from the Christmas pardon – to clean up a friend who threatens, with a clean face, democracy?
Bolsonaro’s irresponsible measure comes to light at a time when the government is trying to attract insecure investors with the Ukraine War, selling the image that Brazil is a “safe haven”, for allegedly having solid democratic foundations.
But it is there, then, that the political crisis contaminates the GDP. As we know, economy is – above all – expectation. And, as we also know, legal certainty is a basic prerequisite for anyone who wants to invest, produce and generate jobs.
A country whose president overnight disallows the highest instance of justice cannot inspire any confidence.
A society that seriously discusses whether the results of the next elections will be respected is not in a position to reach the consensus necessary to overcome inflation and resume economic growth.
In his eagerness to ignite the radicalized base to survive until the elections, Bolsonaro may even make the eyes of a group of businessmen who have boarded the president’s trolley long ago, like Luciano Hang, the owner of Havan, shine.
But the president also runs the risk of producing a side effect with the heavy strokes of his Bic: the abandonment of the owners of the money who might even be inclined to give him a second chance. Anyone who connects Tico and Teco knows that Bolsonaro will not stop. And the economy will continue sobbing in the face of so much turmoil.