May 7 2016
Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy and most populous nation, could be on the verge of major political change that could have ramifications not just across the region but globally.
A 21-member special committee in Brazil’s Senate voted 15 to 5 to continue impeachment measures against President Dilma Rousseff after accepting a recommendation put forward by Senator Antonio Anastasia.
The full senate is scheduled to vote on May 11, a day that could see the Brazilian president temporarily suspended from her post in what would likely lead to the first impeachment of a Brazilian president since 1992 when Fernando Collor de Mello faced massive protests over corruption charges and resigned moments before his conviction by the Senate.
- It’s Aimed at a President Elected by Millions
Dilma Rousseff is Brazil’s first woman president and took office on Jan. 1, 2011 after scoring a resounding victory in the presidential election held in October 2010 under promises she will improve the education system and cut inequality.
Rousseff’s victory was also largely attributed to her close association with her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, also of the Workers Party.
After a successful first term she was re-elected in 2014, seeing off Aecio Neves from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party or PSDB amassing 52 percent of the electorate’s vote and 54 million vote.
The Workers Party, known as the PT, has now been in power for over a decade, much to the chagrin of the country’s conservative political forces.
Former President Lula da Silva has publicly suggested that efforts to impeach Rousseff are driven by politicians who want to take a shortcut to the presidency.
“Anyone who wants to become president, instead of trying to take down the president, they can run in an election. I ran three of them and didn’t get angry,” said Lula in a recent interview.
- Political Opponents of Dilma Have a Majority in the Body That Will Decide Her Fate
The now suspended speaker of the lower chamber of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, a political opponent of Rousseff, accepted a petition for impeachment in what was described by the president’s supporters as vengeance. Cunha, who is under investigation for undeclared Swiss bank accounts totalling US$5 million, only began impeachment proceedings when lawmakers from the PT voted to open an investigation.
A vote in the full lower house, which comprises of 513 lawmakers, has already taken place and the impeachment proceedings have now been sent to the Senate. Should the Senate move forward with the impeachment process on May 11, Rousseff will immediately be suspended for up to six months while the Senate decides her fate.
In this scenario, Vice President Michel Temer – who comes from the same PMDB party as Cuhna, the man who helped push the call for impeachment – will take office as acting president.
The PT only has 57 lawmakers in the lower house, the PMDB has 67 while the rest are made up of smaller parties whose affiliations will be vital in deciding her fate.
Rousseff’s government has seen a number of defections, including the PMDB, the Progressive Party, and the Social Democratic Party, making it very likely that the Senate will vote for impeachment.
The Senate will hold a simple-majority vote on whether or not to convene a trial. It will be overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Ricardo Lewandowski, and two-thirds of the 81 senators must vote for conviction to remove Rousseff from office. If no decision is reached within 180 days, the suspension of the president ends.
Like the lower house, the PT does not command a majority in the Senate, holding only 11 of the seats, meaning that many of Rousseff’s adversaries will be those deciding her fate.
- The First Vote for Impeachment Was Dominated by Those Facing Corruption Charges
The Senate committee voted Friday in favor of continuing the impeachment process of the president. Amazingly, over half of those who voted for impeachment face charges of corruption and other serious crimes. Similarly, 15 out of the 65 members of the impeachment commission have themselves been accused of corruption.
In other words, people accused of corruption voted to open an investigation into a president who has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.
This is why Rousseff’s supporters say that impeachment without proof of a crime is a coup.
- If Ousted, Economic Shock Therapy Will Be Implemented
Brazilian law stipulates that if a trial is convened in the Senate, the president must automatically step down. That means Temer could very soon be the president of Brazil, even if only on a temporary basis.
His party, the PMDB, has already revealed what they intend to do with power.
In a report revealed by “O estado de Sao Paulo,” the PMDB indicated that they would implement sweeping austerity reforms, including cuts to the lauded “Bolsa Familia” program.
The report also said the PMDB would consider cutting a large housing program for the poor and displaced workers and a program to make college education more accessible.
- This Impeachment Process Isn’t Even About Corruption
Pressure began mounting on Rousseff in 2015 after Brazil’s once impressive economy shrank by 3.8 percent, the biggest decline since 1981 and a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal was exposed in the country’s state-run oil company Petrobras.
In the past two years, over 100 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement, including senators and top executives at Petrobras and members from both sides of the political spectrum. Dilma though has not been formally investigated.
Yet the investigation into the corruption scandal has taken a political course, with the lead investigator, Sergio Moro, coming under heavy criticism for his alleged anti-PT bias. Most of the politicians under investigation are not members of the PT, yet the cases involving the PT receive the most attention from the press and investigators.
Rousseff’s potential impeachment is totally unrelated to her or PT’s dealings with the state-run oil company. Rather Rousseff is accused by her political opponents of breaking fiscal laws. They allege she manipulated government accounts to make the country’s deficit seems smaller than it was ahead of the 2014 presidential election to garner support for her re-election campaign.
The government maintains that the audit court is criticizing steps taken by the government to maintain social programs for Brazil’s poor, such as the widely-praised Bolsa Familia.