The Brazilian TRE (Regional Electoral Court) strikes again! Last week, a TRE judge ordered the immediate dismissal of São Paulo’s mayor, Gilberto Kassab (DEM), along with the vice mayor and eight members of the city council.
The vice mayor is Alda Marco Antonio (PSDB) and the city council members are: PT councilmen Antônio Donato Madormo, Arselino Roque Tatto, Ítalo Cardoso Araújo, José Américo Ascêncio Dias and Juliana Cardoso; Gilberto Tanos Natalini and José Police Neto of the PSDB, and Marco Aurélio de Almeida Cunha of the DEM.
They are all accused of using illegal financing in the October 2008 election when Kassab was reelected defeating Marta Suplicy (PT) and Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB).
In a finely detailed ruling, judge Aloisio Silveira, pointed out that the amounts involved were more than 30% of the mayor’s total campaign budget and, as such, constituted “the use of abusive economic power,” an electoral crime in Brazil.
In the past, electoral courts have permitted up to 20% of campaign budgets to consist of what may or may not have been questionable financing. The judge went on to show that the amounts came from prohibited sources. One was an association that was really a front for real estate brokers and another a bank that had a contract with the city; in both cases, campaign contributions were illegal.
Last year, judge Silveira ordered forfeiture of office for 16 members of the city council (also for abusive use of economic power). All of them have appealed Silveira’s rulings and remain in office pending final decisions on their appeals.
An electoral court in São Paulo has already issued a restraining order letting the mayor remain in office. As things stand now, Kassab and the vice mayor remain in office until their appeal is judged by higher courts.
It’s quite possible that this will wind its way all the way to the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), which has the final say on these cases. This court consists of judges from appellate courts and is presided over by a Supreme Court justice. Meanwhile, the city council members have their lawyers scrambling to get appeals filed as well.
Kassab has said that he is not worried about the accusations and that his appeal of the original decision will be victorious. However, Brazilian electoral courts (TREs and the TSE) wield enormous power.
Last year seven lawsuits demanding forfeiture of office for governors elected in October 2006 reached the TSE. So far, five decisions have been handed down. In two cases, Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB-SC) and Waldez Góes (PT-AP), the TSE decision was in favor of the sitting governors.
In three cases, the TSE ruled to cashier the governors and vice governors with the result that the losers in the 2006 elections, often bitter rivals, took office: in Paraíba, Cássio Cunha Lima (PSDB), in Maranhão, Jackson Lago (PDT), and in Tocantins, Marcelo Miranda (PMDB).
This situation is so uncanny that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Gilmar Mendes, recently expressed concern: “There seems to be a serious flaw in Brazilian democracy where one third of the elections for governor may have been fraudulent, or there is an excess of litigation in these cases with a disproportional intervention in the electoral system. Either way, there certainly seems to be some sort of misbalance when you have seven governors facing forfeiture of office.”