Archive | Corruption

Brazil is a Stable and Growing Democracy – And We’re Not Going to Take It Any More!!!

The following guest post is from University of Minnesota political scientist David Samuels, the author of  Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 2003).


In recent weeks millions of Brazilians – urban youth, mainly – have taken to the streets across the country in protest. Why? Politicians, pundits and academics – this one included – continue to scratch their heads.

The protests began as an effort to stop a bus fare increase of US$0.10. A bus ride in São Paulo costs about US$1.50 – high, given per capita income, but an increase of a dime provides a puzzling spark for sustained nationwide street protests. Moreover, once the mayors of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other cities had rescinded the bus rate increases, the “Free Bus Fare” group claimed victory and announced that it would call no more protests. And yet the protests continued to grow and gain adherents.

Brazil’s protests echo those that have erupted in Cairo and Istanbul for example, where angry youth use social media to air grievances and coordinate broader protests. Still, disaffected youth glued to Facebook 24-7 are common to every country, while massive ongoing protests are not. And Brazil is different from Egypt, Turkey, and many other countries, richer or poorer – in that unemployment is low, the economy is (slowly) growing, and it is a stable democracy. The protests are not directed at incumbent president Dilma, who enjoys an approval rating over 50%, or her government.

If the movement is not merely about bus fares or the economy per se, it did gain momentum after police used excessive force to intimidate protesters. Brazil’s police are notorious for using such tactics against poorer and often darker-skinned favela-dwellers. Yet a survey firm discovered that São Paulo protesters are far more likely than average to have a college degree – which means they are also wealthier and lighter-skinned than average. Brazil’s wealthy and upper-middle classes have tacitly sanctioned repressive policing for decades, but witnessing or experiencing firsthand that the police do not care about protesters’ social class or race may have galvanized many, and brought the issue of poor police training and police response to expressions of free speech to the fore.

Still, episodes of police violence also cannot explain the protests’ spread, size and duration. Some suggest that the protests reflect generalized indignation with the country’s political class, but we can be a bit more specific. The protests may not be about economic performance per se, and may be surprising in their breadth and timing, but in my view they can be characterized as reflecting a growing disconnect between taxation and representation.

Brazil’s middle class has gained in terms of living standards over the past 20 years, but the poor and wealthy have gained more, in relative terms. The bus fare protest was just a symbol of broader complaints – as was the reaction to police brutality. As Brazilians move into or climb up the middle class, they inevitably pay more in taxes – yet they also inevitably grow increasingly aware that they do not get their money’s worth. One commonly hears Brazilians complain that they pay “1st world taxes” – about 36% of GDP – but receive “3rd world services” in return. The protests thus represent growing frustration that established political parties are unwilling to implement reforms on both sides of the fiscal coin – to improve public services (particularly healthcare, education, and public safety) and reduce corruption.

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Political Futebol: The World Cup and Brazilian Democracy

We welcome back  Diego von Vacano , a political theory professor from Texas A&M University.


With Brazilians protesting the organization of the 2014 World Cup, it would appear that hell has officially frozen over. Few countries in the world are as soccer-obsessed as Brazil. What would cause the sudden surge of mass demonstrations against the building of new state-of-the-art stadiums for the first World Cup to be held in Brazil since 1950?

 To understand this seismic shift at the nexus of Brazilian politics and culture, we should place it in the historical context of the game in that country. In the 1980s, Socrates was one of Brazil’s best futebol (soccer) players. With flowing hair, long limbs, and often wearing a bandanna and a jersey with the word “democracia” on it, he became a leading figure of the Brazilian national team. His unusual name, and the fact that he was a medical doctor who smoked despite playing at the highest levels, lent him a charisma that made him an iconoclastic icon when he started to support the democracy movement against military dictatorship in Brazil. He also led a players’ democratic structure within his professional team, Corinthians FC, that granted voting power to players on all issues affecting them. This was Brazilian futebol in the 1970s and 1980s: full of creativity, eccentric characters, and politically engaged soccer stars. The zeitgeist was reflected in Brazil’s World Cup teams of 1982 and 1986, which were characterized by artfulness and attacking flair.

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When the Incumbent is the Target: Corruption Arrests in the Czech Republic

The following is a guest post from Vincent Post, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, whose work focuses on Czech politics and the legacy of the communist-era secret services in post-communist Europe.


Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas had a rough week. Last Monday, he announced that he and his wife were getting a divorce. In addition, floods continue to affect large parts of the Czech Republic, and after a second round of rain storms this week, Moravia in the Eastern part of the Czech Republic is struggling as well. Late on Wednesday evening one of his key advisers, Jana Nagyová, was arrested along with seven others in corruption investigations headed by the Police Department for the Investigation of Organized Crime in collaboration with the state prosecutor. Most of those arrested have close ties to Nečas and his party, the Civic Democrats (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS). The events, which have rocked the Czech political scene, are a fascinating case for political scientists studying corruption in East and Central Europe. Nečas has resigned his post in the wake of this scandal.

The police action is amongst the largest in Czech post-communist history. In addition to the arrests, a large number of documents as well as some 6 to 8 million USD and several pounds of gold were confiscated in searches not only of private residences but also of the Government Office and the Ministries of Defense and Finance. More details on the nature of the indictments is coming out very slowly, but it would appear that three different cases are being brought. Nečas’ key adviser, Jana Nagyová, is involved in all three. She is accused of having offered lucrative positions to three ODS former MPs (who have been arrested as well) in exchange for them surrendering their mandates and ceasing their opposition against the Prime Minister and his tax law. In addition, she is being accused of illegally ordering Military Intelligence to have the Prime Minister’s soon to be ex-wife followed. The current and former directors of Military Intelligence have been arrested as well. In a third case, corruption charges are being brought against two ‘godfathers’ – entrepreneurs and lobbyists with close ties to the ODS. The Prime Minister himself has not been indicted but is implicated in all three cases.

In the absence of specifics, speculation started instantly as to what exactly had happened and how it would affect the government coalition, which has been on shaky ground for some time now.

The current coalition relies on an unstable and small majority, there have been ongoing conflicts both within and between the coalition parties, which have done poorly in regional and presidential elections after taking office and which face dismal electoral prognoses. In view of these circumstances and the ongoing infighting, speculations about the premature end of the government had been rife for some time. Nonetheless, while the PM has now resigned, the coalition partners seem eager remain in office, replacing only the PM, something that the Czechs have done before. The opposition is calling for new elections but it is not clear what outcome upcoming meetings between coalition leaders and the Czech President will produce. It is also not clear whether Nečas, no longer protected by parliamentary immunity, may himself become the direct target of these investigations in which he is implicated.

Nečas’ ODS continues to insist that the cases have little merit, that police failed to keep the public informed, and acted in a disproportional manner, damaging the Czech Republic’s reputation abroad.

However, this criticism of the police and the state prosecutor will not save the ODS leaders as it simply underlines how they were out of the loop. Although these arrests affect politics at the highest level and jeopardize the continued existence of the current coalition, the political leaders of the Czech Republic appear to have had access to very little information about what is going on. Nečas seems to have been unaware that arrests were imminent until right before they happened, and he was missing-in-action for most of Wednesday as this news was breaking. Those close to him did not know where he was, media wrote that he had disappeared, and there were rumors that Nečas had suffered a nervous breakdown. Whatever happened, Nečas did not address the media until late Thursday afternoon, hours after the arrests had taken place, claiming that he had been ‘working all day’.

This episode offers some insights in the politics of high-level corruption in post-communist Europe and presents an interesting case from the point of view of the research that is being done at McGill by Maria Popova and Manuel Balán. For starters, the events paint a stark contrast between the Czech situation and prosecutions and investigations elsewhere in Eastern Europe, where corruption investigations have targeted politicians who are out of office and/or in opposition.  In this case, the Czech ‘Department for the Investigation of Organized Crime’ has managed to start an investigation that has reached right into the heart of the current administration without the incumbent prime minister being in a position to prevent it (so far). This may be in line with Manuel Balán’s finding that corruption scandals originate from competition within government coalitions. Thus, rather than signal that state institutions are working efficiently to purge themselves from corruption, the corruption scandal may simply indicate that certain factions or actors within the ODS or its coalition are using law enforcement to gain more power within the government coalition.

In addition, prosecutorial independence may be an important factor. It is clear that corruption is amongst the most salient issues across the post-communist region, but we know less about the dynamics of corruption prosecutions and how they are affected by the independence and integrity of the judiciary.  We know that former prime ministers of Ukraine (Yuliya Tymoshenko), Romania (Adrian Năstase), and Croatia (Ivo Sanader) are serving prison sentences after being convicted on corruption-related charges, while their counterparts in Macedonia (Vlado Buckovski) and Bulgaria (Stefan Sofiyanski) have had their lower court convictions reversed on appeal. However, it is quite tricky to evaluate reliably which prosecutions were genuine attempts at tackling corruption, and which represented settling of political scores (on the Tymoshenko prosecution, see Popova’s paper here).  In addition, more research is needed to understand the conditions under which the prosecution and the judiciary would be motivated and capable of pursuing high-level political corruption.  Based on data from Bulgaria, Popova has argued counterintuitively that a highly insulated judiciary has lower incentives for tackling high-level political corruption.  More research is needed in this area, and the recent events in the Czech Republic might form an interesting case. For the moment, it remains to be seen whether they are the product of a strong and independent institution that is not vulnerable to political pressures, or whether they are the result of political forces seeking to undermine Petr Nečas and his government.


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