Just two days after brazil's officially tolerated opposition party challenged the military-run government, President Ernesto Geisel suspended Congress for an indefinite period today in a major reversal of his promised return to democratic rule.
The closing, the first such move in nine years, made clear that although Geisel will allow civilian politians to speak out on national issues and even criticize the government, he will not permit any challenge to the military's basic authority.
Geisel, a retired general, later went in television and angrily accused the opposition party of being a "stumbling block" to "the well being of the nation." He said that with Congress in recess he will temporarily take over the legislative process and decree into law the judiciary reform bill that the opposition party had rejected. He promised "other reforms of a political nature" that he feels the country needs.
The president did not say anything about summarily firing individual opposition congressmen who mobilized votes against the judiciary bill. He can do this at will, and many legislators believe he will take this step.
There was also speculation that he would cancel state governor elections scheduled for next year.
Governors are now appointed by the president and they all belong to The official government ARENA party. Should elections be allowed, the opposition is expected to capture several important statehouses.
Geisel permitted the first freely contested congressional elections three years ago, when victories by the opposition brought it control of 42 per cent of the seats in Brazilia.
Actually the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement is itself a creature of military rule, having been created along with the official party when the generals decided to implant a legislature a year after taking power.
Only recently has the opposition shown much independence.
In a speech yesterday at an army base, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the coup that brought the military to power, Geisel said:
"We live in freedom. But there is no freedom for those who want to use freedom to destroy our nation." He called the opposition party a "dictatorship inside congress" and said its refusal to back the judicial measure "harmed Brazil."
In rejecting the judicial reform amendment the opposition had pointed out that it failed to reinstitute habeas corpus or to end arbitrary removal of judges. To have limited presidential power in that area could have undercut his decree power.
Geisel's power to close congress was criticized in a State Department report on human rights violations in Brazil that was sent to congress last month.
Geisel in the past has promised to "return Brazil slowly and gradually, to democratic ways," and has sought to avoid use of dictatorial powers.
Congress has not been closed since a predecessor of Geisel shut it for nine months after it rejected a government bill late in 1968.
Despite Geisel's highly critical speech yesterday, his closure of the congress was not announced until after he met with the National Security Council today.
The government tried to prevent the congressional confrontation from becoming an explosive public topic. The federal police prohibited radio and television from carrying anything other than official government pronouncements on it. Most newspapers, however were allowed to give full coverage.
[The often critical Rio weekly Opiniao announced that it will no longer publish until prior censorship, to which it and three other newspapers are subjected, is removed, Associated Press reported.]