Rousseff impeachment leaves little optimism for Brazilians

Analysis: President’s suspension unlikely to help dissatisfaction with political class

A protester in support of Dilma Rousseff holds a banner outside the Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, May 11th, 2016. Photograph: Lula Marques/Bloomberg

A protester in support of Dilma Rousseff holds a banner outside the Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, May 11th, 2016. Photograph: Lula Marques/Bloomberg

 

Following the decision by Brazil’s senate on Thursday morning to formally open impeachment proceedings against her, president Dilma Rousseff finds herself suspended from leading the world’s fourth largest democracy.

For now she holds onto the job description and gets to remain in the main presidential residence with a still-to-be-determined number of advisers. And unless she resigns beforehand, a move she has vehemently ruled out, she will still have her day in court.

Within 180 days the senate must hold a trial on whether to permanently strip her of her mandate. If Ms Rousseff can persuade just one third of the 81-member chamber to vote against impeaching her she will return to her day job at the Planalto Palace and see out her term which ends in December 2018.

But the odds of that happening are increasingly remote. Since the political crisis took hold at the start of last year, Ms Rousseff has displayed a remarkable capacity for frittering away all the considerable political advantages that come with the presidential sash. Her numerous displays of political ineptness have left even her supporters tearing at their hair.

If even with all the resources of Brazil’s federal system at her disposal she was unable last month to convince a third of the lower house of congress, one of the more easily biddable assemblies in the democratic world, to vote against impeachment, she will have even less chance of finding a similar blocking minority in the senate now that her enemies are running the state machine.

For weeks her estranged vice-president Michel Temer has been holding talks on forming a new administration ready to take over from Ms Rousseff. He is looking to add as many parties as possible to his own Democratic Movement of Brazil party in order to provide him with the working majority in congress he will need to pass the measures necessary to clean up the mess in the public accounts he inherits.

Such a majority, being secured in many cases with the promise of high spending ministries for low-minded political parties, is also likely to ensure that Ms Rousseff never wields the presidential pen again. Even her own Workers Party is looking beyond her to the presidential elections in October 2018.

Economic mess

Though the party will not admit it publicly, with no sign of a quick exit from the country’s worst recession in decades, the little-loved Rousseff’s return to office and thus responsibility for the economic mess her deeply flawed ‘new economic matrix’ produced would only harm the chances of its supreme leader, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, winning in 2018.

Better to leave the clean-up, and the unpopular measures required to carry it out, to Temer all the while attacking him as an illegitimate coup-monger.

In this effort to destabilise, the new acting president the Workers Party could have an unlikely ally in the investigators into corruption at state oil giant Petrobras.

Mr Temer has already been named by some of those they have charged in the scheme as being one of its participants.

He denies any wrongdoing, as do several close allies earmarked for prominent positions in his incoming administration who have also been named in the investigation. But federal prosecutors have shown themselves to be relentless in over two years unravelling the multi-billion euro fraud, meaning they could be as dangerous for the new government as they were to Ms Rousseff’s, unless the rumours are correct and it somehow clips investigators’ wings.

The problem for the Workers Party is that Mr Lula might not be in a position to benefit from any legal difficulties experienced by Mr Temer or his chief lieutenants, given federal prosecutors have already identified him as a participant in the Petrobras scheme.

In the next two years he could find himself simultaneously running for the presidency while trying to stay out of jail.

For Brazilians, whether for or against impeachment, such future prospects inspire little optimism. Mr Temer is almost as unpopular as Ms Rousseff according to opinion polls and Mr Lula’s rejection rating has soared in recent months.

What such disapproval reflects is the public’s opprobrium of an entire political class and the impeachment of one president is unlikely to change that much.

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