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After vote to impeach Rousseff, what happens next?

The fight over whether to impeach Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff has left the country deeply divided. (Renato S. Cerqueira/Futura Press/Folhapress)
The fight over whether to impeach Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff has left the country deeply divided. (Renato S. Cerqueira/Futura Press/Folhapress)

No one has accused Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, of any personal impropriety in the sweeping investigations of kickbacks to politicians in Brazil from the state oil company, Petrobras.brazil

Nevertheless, a two-thirds majority of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) decided to impeach Rousseff anyway, based on an obscure theory — that Rousseff fudged the budget numbers in the lead-up to the 2014 election to hide the  precarious condition of Brazil’s budget deficit and reduce the need to cut spending in an election year.

No one had any doubts in 2014 that the country’s increasing debt burden was weighing down its economic outlook and even Rousseff, after her reelection, shook up her cabinet, bringing in Joaquim Levy as finance minister, and Nelson Barbosa, now Levy’s successor, to introduce greater budget discipline as the country sinks further into recession.

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RELATED: Collor faced Brazilian impeachment crucible
25 years before Dilma

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In reality, it’s the Petrobras scandal that’s swept up Rousseff, along with nearly 320 members of the Brazilian congress. Operation Car Wash has uncovered a wide-ranging scheme whereby leading politicians accepted kickbacks on the basis of inflated public contracts granted from Petrobras. The scandal implicates Rousseff’s own Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), but it has also snared politicians from across the ideological spectrum. The scandal took an even sharper turn this spring when former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s mentor who first won power in 2002, was also accused of taking kickbacks. The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, among many, many others, are also under investigation. Brazilians refer to the scandal as the petrolão, which translates to the ‘big oily.’

The battle moves to Brazil’s Senate

Complicating the impeachment vote is the fact that Rousseff herself is personally and politically unpopular. A collapsing economy has left her with an approval rating in the teens. In one sense, Rousseff was impeached on Sunday because she’s so widely reviled by Brazilians. Rousseff’s opponents, even though many of them are under investigation themselves, blatantly admit that they supported impeachment just to remove her from office for political reasons. The Brazilian right has lost four consecutive elections to either Lula or to Rousseff, though Rousseff only narrowly won reelection in October 2014.

The nakedly political considerations involved explain why Rousseff and her left-leaning supporters have been quick to label the impeachment vote as an undemocratic coup. But it’s more complicated than either side would like to admit. Rousseff is correct when she argues that the Brazilian media is, largely, anti-PT, and the business elite has increasingly turned against her and Lula.

But Rousseff herself served as the chairwoman of the Petrobras board between 2003 and 2010, and her critics believe it’s risible that she knew nothing about the kickbacks. Moreover, she blatantly attempted to appoint Lula to her cabinet last month as a way of offering him immunity from prosecution. (Rousseff’s supporters subsequently attacked the lead prosecutor, Sérgio Moro, for releasing the audio recording of a conversation between Lula and Rousseff).

Rousseff is now almost certain to face a prolonged trial before the upper house of the Brazilian Congress. With just a majority vote in the 81-member Senado (Senate), she can be suspended for office for 180 days. Her vice president, Michel Temer, the 75-year-old leader of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), will almost certainly take over temporarily and, if not impeached himself, will take over if Rousseff is formally removed. The next elections are scheduled for 2018.

Temer and the PMDB broke with Rousseff earlier this month, in a step that now seems likely to have doomed Rousseff’s fate. Temer has already indicated that, as Brazil’s new president, he will pursue a much more center-right orientation that will look to assure markets and business elites. He has also indicated that he might attempt to rein in the Petrobras investigations that have thoroughly discredited a country’s worth of institutions. The PMDB is a ‘big tent’ party whose sole ideology seems to be proximity to power — it has provided support to every sitting Brazilian government, of the center-right or the center-left, since 1994. Temer, Cunha and other leading pemedebistas are under the same clouds of corruption as many of the leading petistas, so a Temer presidency would not wipe the political slate clean. 

Rousseff will, however, survive if she can muster more than one-third of Brazil’s senators in a trial that might not begin until May.

Her removal isn’t a fait accompli.

Note, however, that Rousseff (and Temer, as her 2014 running mate) still faces the possibility that her reelection will be vacated by Brazil’s supreme electoral court, which is reviewing whether the Rousseff campaign received illegal campaign funds. If the court decides to vacate the election, Cunha (the scandal-plagued speaker of the Chamber of Deputies) will temporarily replace Temer as president before a fresh presidential vote later this year.

Brazil’s hyper-partisan future looks grim

The legacies of Lula and Dilma are now bound together through the high-stake impeachment process. (Facebook)
The legacies of Lula and Dilma are now bound together through the high-stake impeachment process. (Facebook)

Even if Rousseff survives the Senate trial, she will have virtually no power as a wildly unpopular lame-duck president — just the second in modern Brazilian democracy to be impeached. Rousseff will continue fighting to protect the legacy of lulismo and the PT’s four terms in power, most notably the massive programs that have reduced extreme poverty and inequality that have made Lula, Rousseff and the PT extremely popular among Brazil’s poor. Moreover, even as Lula himself faces criminal liability for his own possible role in the Petrobras scandal, he remains extremely popular in Brazil (much more so than Rousseff) and on the Latin American left, generally.

Indeed, if an election were held today, Lula would be competitive to win, as incredible as it seems. He’s essentially tied with the other top-tier contenders from the 2014 election, Marina Silva (an alternative leftist with socially conservative positions on abortion of LGBT rights and with roots in Brazil’s green movement) and Aécio Neves, a Brazilian senator and the former two-term governor of the state of Minas Gerais. Neves today is the leader of Brazil’s main center-right opposition party, the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), which has long supported Rousseff’s removal.

But the impeachment process and its aftermath are already making Brazil’s hyperpartisan divide even worse. A small glimpse of the ugliness came on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies Sunday night when one member, Jair Bolsonaro, who also hopes to run for president in 2018, dedicated his vote in favor of impeachment to the leader of a torture unit during Brazil’s military dictatorship whose victims included, among others, Rousseff herself. Other far-right deputies also voiced praise Sunday night for some of the leaders of Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 through 1985.

Though a majority of Brazilians (including both wealthy and poor Brazilians) supported Rousseff’s impeachment, the battle has left many voters divided sharply. Moreover, a compromised Temer-led interim presidency also seems unlikely to unite a country that still faces incredible challenges, including a nasty economic downturn, the rising threat of the Zika virus and the difficulty of hosting the first Summer Olympics in South American history later in 2016.

Brazil’s democracy has already survived one impeachment, when former president Fernando Collor resigned a day before the Brazilian senate voted formally to remove him from office in December 1992. But Collor, at the time, was more personally and, potentially, criminally implicated in the corruption scandal that spurred his impeachment, which the Chamber of Deputies passed in a near-unanimous vote. In contrast, the impeachment battle against Rousseff has been far more colored by partisan opinion.

Brazil might not be better off in a post-Dilma world

Michel Temer, Brazil’s vice president, comes from an ideology-free party devoted primarily to remaining in power. (Facebook)

It’s looking increasingly likely that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff might not make it through the end of her term in January 2019.brazil

On March 12, Rousseff’s main coalition partner, the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) announced that it would take a full month to reconsider its support for Rousseff, currently in her second term and what amounts to the fourth consecutive term of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) that began with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s 2002 election victory.

Since mid-March, the drive to impeach Rousseff has only intensified, with prosecutors seeking to interview and possibly detain Lula da Silva himself, the godfather of not just the Brazilian left but the entire Latin American left. Rousseff attempted to appoint Lula da Silva as her chief of staff to give him the kind of ministerial role that he would need to evade potential investigation, though Brazil’s supreme court blocking the appointment in short order. Though Rousseff herself has not been personally implicated in the Petrobras scandal (whereby officials gave kickbacks to politicians in exchange for inflated construction contracts), investigators believe that Lula da Silva might be more deeply involved.

Lula da Silva, incredibly, might be arrested at any moment, which would almost certainly accelerate the push to impeach Rousseff on obscure charges about obfuscation of Brazil’s state finances during the 2014 election campaign. Also, incredibly, impeachment isn’t the only way that Rousseff might be forced from office. If it emerges that she won the 2014 presidential election through illicit money, she and the vice president could be removed through the cassação process that could vacated the election altogether.

Either way, the presidency would end up in either the hands of the PMDB: in the case of impeachment, vice president Michel Temer or, in the case that the 2014 election is annulled, the speaker of the Brazilian congress’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), Eduardo Cunha.

Neither result would give Brazilians much comfort about the state of their country’s government.
Continue reading Brazil might not be better off in a post-Dilma world

What are the chances of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment?


Despite headlines that are raising eyebrows both in Brazil and abroad, talk of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment is still more smoke than fire.brazil

But the risk of impeachment proceedings will only increase as the corruption scandal surrounding Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (‘Petrobras’), the state oil company, intensifies. Though impeachment talk may be premature today, it will not be so farfetched if Rousseff is  personally linked to the Petrobras kickbacks or if it’s found that illegal funds financed Rousseff’s reelection campaign last year.

Nearly two million Brazilians have now signed a petition demanding her impeachment, and rising protests throughout a handful of Brazilian cities could spread more widely — perhaps even to levels seen during the 2013 protests.

As Brazil readies to host the first-ever South American Summer Olympics in 2016, Rousseff will brace for more criticism that the country can ill afford new stadiums at a time when many Brazilians, especially in Rio de Janeiro and its largest cities, still live in poverty. The real‘s value has dropped by more than 25% in the last year, inflation is rising, GDP growth is expected to stall in 2015 and Rousseff has committed to new austerity policies to allay fears in the bond markets about Brazil’s budget. More ominously, as her approval ratings plummet, and she faces emboldened domestic opposition, Brazilians have a ready precedent in the impeachment of Fernando Collor 23 years ago.

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RELATED: Petrobras scandal highlights 12 years of Brazilian corruption

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Rousseff, who narrowly won reelection last October, served as Brazil’s minister for mines and energy between 2003 and 2005, when the alleged corruption abuses are said to have begun. Even if Rousseff doesn’t face formal impeachment hearings, the whiff of scandal surrounding her adds to the sense that Rousseff and her party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), now in its fourth consecutive term in power, have become hopelessly corrupt. That could undermine Rousseff’s efforts to accomplish much in her second presidential term, including efforts to turn around Brazil’s stumbling economy. It could also complicate any efforts by beloved former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (pictured above with Rousseff) to make a comeback bid in 2018. Continue reading What are the chances of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment?

Neves struggles to puncture the Dilma-Marina show


A month and a half ago, when Brazil’s investor class proclaimed its doubts about the reelection of president Dilma Rousseff, no one stood to gain more than Aécio Neves.minasgeraisbrazil

The grandson of a distinguished pro-democracy activist, Neves (pictured above) represents the next, post-lulista generation of Brazil’s center-right politics. Three decades younger than Brazil’s last conservative president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and more charismatic than former São Paulo governor and mayor José Serra, Neves brought to the race a strong pedigree and an accomplished record as an economic reformer as the two-term governor of the powerful, sprawling state of Minas Gerais.

That was before the airplane crash that killed former presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, which suddenly catapulted his running mate, the popular Marina Silva, into the presidential race.

Where Neves once had credible hopes of becoming Brazil’s next president, he now seems likelier to play a kingmaker role in what’s shaping up to be a fiercely contested runoff between Rousseff and Dilma.

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RELATED: Why Marina Silva must now step up for the Brazilian left

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Within days, Silva leapt to the lead in polls for the race to become Brazil’s next president. Though Rousseff has now recovered a first-round lead in many polls, Neves is still languishing in third place, far behind both Rousseff and Silva, a reverse from the summer, when Neves held a solid second-place position against the late Campos, who was leading a coalition anchored by the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party) that, until recently, supported the Rousseff government.

Polls show that the October 26 runoff will be incredibly tight between the two women, and many officials within Neves’s party, the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), popularly known as the tucanos (‘toucans’) was already talking a month ago about how they’ll support Silva, a former environmental minister under Rousseff’s mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in the runoff. Armino Fraga, a former central bank president known for stabilizing the Brazilian real in the early 2000s, who returned to the fray to help elect Neves, is now being floated instead as a possible finance minister in a potential Silva administration. Fraga, for now, refuses to serve in any administration other than Neves’s.  Continue reading Neves struggles to puncture the Dilma-Marina show

Brazilian Socialists finalize Silva-Albuquerque ticket


One week after the tragic airplane crash that ended the life  of Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, his party has quickly minted a new ticket for the October general election.brazil

As widely expected, Campos’s running mate Marina Silva agreed to run in Campos’s place as the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), which only last year broke with its longtime alliance with the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), the party of Brazil’s incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

For her part, Silva is a former PT legislator and environmental activist, who served as Lula’s environmental minister between 2003 and 2008 before she broke with Lula. She subsequently joined the Partido Verde (PV, Green Party) to run for president four years ago — winning nearly 20% of the vote against Rousseff in the first round of the 2010 election. 

In 2014, difficulties in registering a new party forced Silva to shelve, however reluctantly, her presidential ambitions and she joined the Brazilian Socialists. Campos, the former popular governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, named Silva as his running mate.

That all changed last week with the air crash in São Paulo state that killed Campos and brought the Brazilian election campaign to a halt as Rousseff, Silva and the rest of Brazil’s political class paused to mourn Campos.

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RELATED Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash
: Why Marina Silva must now step up for the Brazilian left

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With 10 days to select a new candidate, and with just weeks to go before the election’s first round on October 5, the PSB chose Silva over the weekend to lead its ticket, on the condition that Silva, who hasn’t always been the most disciplined candidate in the past, and who is a newcomer to the PSB, will continue to honor the party’s electoral program and regional alliances. Technically, like Rousseff and center-right challenger Aécio Neves, Silva will head a coalition of parties in the presidential race. Silva’s coalition, though dominated by the PSB, also includes five smaller parties, such as the    Partido Popular Socialista (PPS, Popular Socialist Party). 

The whirlwind of events brings to the presidential race a candidate who, ironically, garnered much more support than Campos ever had. Continue reading Brazilian Socialists finalize Silva-Albuquerque ticket

Eduardo Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash


Eduardo Campos, a popular former two-term governor of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, and a former minister of science and technology nearly a decade ago under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, died at age 49 today in a tragic airplane crash while campaigning in the coastal state of São Paulo earlier today. Pernambucobrazil

Campos was one of seven people on board the small plane, all of whom died when the aircraft crashed into a neighborhood in the port city of Santos, reportedly due to poor weather.  

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, and Campos’s rival in the upcoming October presidential election, called for a three-day period of national mourning and suspended her own campaign activities. 

Campos (pictured above) was selected as the presidential candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party). Once a supporter of Lula da Silva and his successor, Rousseff, the Brazilian Socialists, under Campos’s leadership, left Rousseff’s broad government coalition last November, and the party has been gaining support in recent years.

Polls generally showed that Campos trailed Rousseff, who is seeking reelection as the candidate of a wide coalition headed by her own Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), as well as the more center-right candidate, Aécio Neves, the candidate of Serra’s center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party). The most recent Ibope survey, dated August 3 to August 6, gave Rousseff 38%, Neves 23% and Campos 9%, though the race was expected to narrow as more Brazilians paid increasing attention to race. 

Accordingly, Campos and his popular running mate, Marina Silva (who was not on the flight with Campos), were capable of building a serious campaign alternative to both Rousseff and Neves, with possible banks of support among urban progressives in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Brasília; rural voters from Campos’s Nordeste region, who have tilted tilting more to the left in recent years; and former lulista supporters disenchanted with the growing centrism of the Worker’s Party.

The PSB, and the wider coalition that had united to support Campos, has ten days to decide how to replace Campos, but Silva would almost certainly be the best to carry forward Campos’s legacy, and she’s by far the most well-known candidate who could so quickly replace Campos.

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RELATED: Rousseff holds weak lead as reelection challenge
looms in Brazil

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Late last year, Campos formed an alliance with former presidential candidate Marina Silva, a former environmental minister, green activist, evangelical and prominent Afro-Brazilian figure who won nearly 20% of the vote in the last presidential election in 2010.

Though Silva was running as Campos’s running mate in the current election, and she even formally joined the Brazilian Socialists to do so, many of her fans believed that Silva — and not Campos — should have led their joint ticket. Running on the strength of Campos’s legacy, her own popularity and the broad leftist platform that the PSB and its allies espouse, Silva’s candidacy could upend the race into a close three-way contest.

Campos comes from a long line of Brazilian politicians in Pernambuco, where his grandfather, Miguel Arraes, served three times as state governor, in addition to serving as mayor of Recife and as a member of the Brazilian parliament, despite a 15-year exile during Brazil’s military government of the 1960s and 1970s. Continue reading Eduardo Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash