Rousseff tries to stay presidential as impeachment vote nears

Brazil’s battered leader tries to show she is still in command amid week of embarrassments

Nearly two weeks after Brazil's lower house of congress voted to impeach her, the administration of president Dilma Rousseff is limping towards its day of reckoning in the senate in May.

Rousseff has sought to give the impression she is still in command of Latin America’s biggest country.

For example, she has nominated new ministers to replace former allies who betrayed her by resigning as her once formidable coalition disintegrated in the face of widespread public support for impeachment. But such efforts have only helped fuel the sense of an administration reaching its end.

Earlier this week she appointed her former aide, Alessandro Teixera, as tourism minister, and he promptly celebrated by proudly showing his wife, Milena Santos, around his new ministerial office.


That turned into a political disaster as the racily clad Santos, a former “Miss Bum Bum” (a Brazilian pageant show) took the opportunity to shoot an impromptu glamour photo session. She quickly posted it on Facebook, declaring herself “Brazil’s first lady of tourism”, provoking national ridicule.

More cronyism

There was further embarrassment the presidential palace, and another example of the corruption and cronyism engulfing the ruling Workers Party.

It was quickly discovered that in his previous government job Teixera had appointed his wife's aunt to a secretarial post with a salary of nearly €5,000 a month, a small fortune in Brazil.

The aunt was quickly fired, another victim of Miss Bum Bum’s ill-considered photo shoot.

A more serious blow for Rousseff was the election on Tuesday of an opposition senator as rapporteur of the senate commission analysing the lower house’s impeachment motion.

The Workers Party had opposed Antonio Anastasia’s appointment as he had already declared his support for Rousseff’s removal. But after its defeat in the lower house, the party’s position is now eroding in the upper chamber as well.

As rapporteur, Anastasia is almost certain to recommend the impeachment motion to the senate, where the opposition already has the votes to take it up.

The vote is provisionally set for May 11th, and a loss would trigger Rousseff’s suspension for up to six months while the upper house debates her fate.

Meanwhile, power is visibly migrating towards vice-president Michel Temer, who is busy meeting with some of the leading political figures of the past quarter-century as he attempts to build a heavyweight government that will overcome his own lack of public support.

Temer has taken a vow of silence until the senate decides whether he becomes acting president, but is reportedly seeking to nominate a cabinet that will include ministers who served under Rousseff and her two predecessors, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

As the VP prepares to take over the presidential job, taken as inevitable by Rousseff’s aides, the Workers Party is increasingly acting like it is already back in opposition. Militants from allied social movement have mounted roadblocks across the country, but the threat to raise up the Brazilian street against the “coup” is so far unfulfilled.

Court appeal

In light of the lack of widespread public mobilisation in her defence, Rousseff might instead fall back on another appeal to the supreme court, which has so far been deaf to her claims that the impeachment process is unconstitutional.

Rousseff has also threatened to have regional organisations Mercosur and Unasur take action against Brazil if she is removed.

Mercosur's high representative, former Workers Party deputy Doutor Rosinha, has said the bloc could take "necessary measures" if it decides that Brazil has suffered any democratic rupture.

But Paraguay's government has already ruled out any such move, and Argentina is also unlikely to impose any sanctions on Brazil at a time when it is desperate for its biggest trading partner to pull out of recession in order to help kick-start its own economic recovery.

Meanwhile, to cap a miserable week, on Thursday public prosecutors filed corruption charges against Rousseff’s marketing guru, João Santana, who oversaw her re-election campaign in 2014.