The Brazilian Senate just elected Renan Calheiros as its president, thus making him the third highest ranking politician in the country after the president and vice president.

Calheiros resigned this post in 2007 in order to avoid impeachment after he was accused of using money from a lobby group to pay alimony to a former girlfriend and of using false documents while lying about the scandal.

He currently faces fresh charges, with the country’s top prosecutor accusing him of bribery and using false documents to justify illegal payments he was receiving.

The Senate chose to ignore those accusations – and his dubious past – and this afternoon elected him by a margin of 56 votes to 18.

Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of democratic societies and Calheiros has the right to defend himself and to run for office.

But if they had rejected his bid for the presidency, Senators would have sent out a positive sign that ethics and morals are important factors when choosing those who will lead the nation.

Instead, they gave Brazilians one more reason to loathe their politicians.

When asked to name their most corrupt institutions last year, Brazilians put ‘Political Parties’ and ‘Parliament and Legislature’ together in a tie for first place. (See the full study here, by Transparency International.)

The election of Calheiros is a perfect example of why.