Michel Temer was sworn in as president of Brazil on Wednesday evening, at the conclusion of a protracted political process that saw the country’s first female president impeached, ending 13 years of left-wing rule in Latin America’s largest state.
Senators voted 61 to 20 to impeach president Dilma Rousseff on the grounds she violated a fiscal responsibility law, and there were cries of “Brazil!” and a spontaneous chorus of the national anthem when the final tally was posted in the chamber. Mr. Temer, 75, a career politician from the centre-right who helped lead the drive to force Ms. Rousseff out, will serve the rest of her mandate to the end of 2018.
But there was a startling eleventh-hour twist in the impeachment vote, when the presiding judge accepted a proposal to break the original motion into two parts. After resoundingly impeaching her, senators then voted on a motion to strip Ms. Rousseff of the right to stand for office; an ousted president would normally be barred for eight years. That motion failed – 42 to 36 – and Mr. Temer’s party voted as a bloc against it, leaving Ms. Roussef’s political career at least theoretically alive.
Shortly after the vote, Ms. Rousseff, 68, spoke from the steps of the presidential residence she is vacating, surrounded by a coterie of supporters, most of them women, most clad in Workers’ Party red. “Listen to me: They think they beat us, but they are mistaken,” she said. “We will mount the toughest, most tireless, energetic opposition that a government of coup-mongers can face.”
She said she will appeal the impeachment to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, but the court has shown itself reluctant to over-rule Congress in this process and is highly unlikely to intervene.
Mr. Temer gathered his cabinet for a meeting after his swearing-in, and briefly spoke to the country through reporters who attended, before departing for the G20 summit in China. He emphasized concern for the country’s unemployment rate, now above 11 per cent, and said his government would seek to impose a new ceiling on spending and reform pensions and labour law. He urged ministers to cut waste and bureaucracy. And he concluded by confronting the repeated accusations of a parliamentary coup levelled by Ms. Rousseff and her supporters.
“A coup is when someone proposes to act outside the constitution,” he said sternly. “We aren’t going to let this [accusation] continue: Now, things must be clear. A coup-monger violates the constitution … They tried hard, with some success, to say that Brazil had a coup. A coup that lasted 108 days, with an impeachment process that had a defence, 40 witnesses on one side, 40 witnesses on the other, the judiciary presiding, the Supreme Court on hand. We must respond.”
His congressional allies heralded what they called the start of a new chapter for a battered country. “It is time to restart, it is time to rebuild Brazil,” Ataides Oliveira, a senator who supported the impeachment, told reporters after the vote. “I hope Congress [co-operates], particularly because of the disastrous legacy he has been left by the Workers’ Party.”
The new chapter, however, promises its own elements of drama: The new president himself, and many of his ministers, are under investigation for corruption.
Mr. Temer said he has been received with “civic joy” after his swearing in, perhaps referring to the crowd of staff and supporters, almost all white and male, that swept him into the room for the swearing-in. But he has been polling an approval rating of 11 per cent, and others seemed less sure of the reception that awaits him, particularly if he proceeds with cuts to social spending or weakens labour law.
“The man seems really to believe that he will have the respect and esteem of Brazilians just because he’s president now,” Joaquim Barbosa, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court who is a widely admired public figure, said on Twitter. “He’s deluded.”
Ms. Rousseff’s last days in office helped recapture some of the public esteem in which she was once held – she delivered an impassioned address to senators on Monday and then sat for more than 14 hours parrying their questions, with the kind of steely determination for which she was once best known. Her first foray into political life came as an activist in the pro-democracy underground that battled the military dictatorship in the 1970s; she was caught, imprisoned and tortured.
She went on to become an economist and civil servant; in a meeting with former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, she impressed him so much with her grasp of complex files that he plucked her from the ranks of bureaucrats to run the Ministry of Energy, and later be his chief of staff. Her 2010 campaign for the presidency as his anointed successor was the first she’d ever fought.
But her policy legacy, of expanding Workers’ Party programs to provide public housing and social security benefits for the poor, is now obscured by the impeachment and her failures in office. She has presided over the worst contraction of Brazil’s economy in nearly a century, and an array of senior figures in her government have been arrested in a vast corruption scandal. She proved tone-deaf with the public, often appearing haughty and didactic in her addresses, and she was inept in her negotiations with a fractured Congress that runs on horse-trading and favours. Whereas the last president Brazil impeached, 24 years ago, is today nearly universally disdained, Ms. Rousseff will likely continue to divide opinions, said historian Marcus Dezemone.
The Workers’ Party (PT in Portuguese), once a colossus among left-wing political movements, is in tatters as its time in power abruptly ends. “The party is diminished to the point that you ask if it can possibly recapture its strength – it will do very badly in the next election,” said Fabio Wanderley Reis, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. But ultimately, the PT will likely continue to win the support of the significant swathe of Brazil that is poor and disenfranchised, he said. “For this electoral group, there is no real alternative.”Report Typo/Error