Blackout Eclipses Brazil Senate Vote in Setback to TemerBy and
Senate president cuts power to chamber to frustrate opposition
Upper house due to vote on government-sponsored labor reform
Brazil’s Senate was swathed in darkness on Tuesday afternoon, as the upper chamber’s president cut the power in an attempt to frustrate an opposition protest against a key labor reform bill.
Eunicio Oliveira, from the ruling coalition, ordered off the sound, light and air-conditioning on the Senate floor, as he suspended the session that was due to vote on the government-sponsored bill. The Senate president made his decision after a group of female senators from the opposition occupied his podium in order to postpone the vote.
The unusual scene in the Senate highlights the depth of the political crisis in Brasilia, and how difficult it has become for the government to pass legislation. With a clear majority in favor of deregulated labor markets, President Michel Temer was hoping to showcase that his economic agenda has not been jeopardized by the latest political crisis. But with Congress to vote as early as next week whether to put Temer on trial over corruption charges, the 76 year-old constitutional lawyer spends much of his energy defending himself rather than pushing reforms, including a shake-up of Brazil’s social security system.
Many investors are uncertain whether the reform agenda and Brazil’s economic recovery stand a better chance under the current administration, or with House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, who would take over temporarily if Temer were ousted. Since the accusations against Temer surfaced in mid-May, the equity and currency markets have see-sawed.
Most analysts believe the government has the votes necessary to pass the labor bill, which would prioritize direct negotiations between workers and employers over existing regulations. Approval, however, would merely be an indication of the size of the pro-reform coalition in Congress and not a sign of support for Temer, Eurasia Group wrote in a report published on Tuesday.
"The session will restart when this dictatorship allows," Oliveira said to reporters after suspending activity in the chamber, referring to the opposition protest.
Even if Temer rounds up the necessary one-third of the 513 deputies in the lower house to shelve the request for a trial, he is likely to face fresh charges by the country’s top public prosecutor as early as next month. That would potentially pave the way for a drawn-out battle that could last months.
"Temer would have to redesign his coalition not to be ousted," said legislator Ivan Valente of the socialist PSOL party. "He has almost negative popularity ratings. The trend is for him not to survive."