Dilma Rousseff will address Brazil’s senate on Monday, in what seems certain to be the last address of her presidency, and tell those who intend to oust her that they are imperilling this country’s democratic institutions.
“This will be a dialogue between Dilma and Brazilian history,” said Pedro Serrano, a constitutional law expert at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo. “She needs to speak and record for history that she believes what is happening is an authoritarian and unconstitutional move.”
Ms. Rousseff told a crowd of supporters last week that “the only thing that kills anti-democratic parasites is the oxygen of the debate, criticism and truth.” But her words, however impassioned, are unlikely to change the outcome of the trial. A minimum of 54 of 81 senators must vote in favour of her impeachment, and while only 53 have publicly said they intend to, there is a “herd mentality” in the chamber, and the sense that Ms. Rousseff is finished will no doubt sway others, said Maria do Socorro Braga, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Sao Paulo.
Ms. Rousseff faces impeachment on charges of budgetary manipulation – she is being tried by Congress for borrowing from state banks to mask a government deficit. She counters that she did nothing that previous governments have not done and that her ouster is being spearheaded by politicians who are angry she would not stop the investigation into the giant corruption scandal known as Lava Jato, which has ensnared many members of Congress, from her coalition and the opposition.
While Ms. Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla who became the country’s first female president, faces no charges of personal corruption, her popularity has been eroded by Brazil’s massive economic crisis. The economy contracted by 5.6 per cent in the last 12 months, inflation is near 11 per cent and the unemployment rate is above that.
Ms. Rousseff was forced to step aside from the presidency in May while the impeachment process wended its way through Congress. In the intervening months, the country seems largely to have moved on. Even many of those who argue that she is being ousted unfairly seem to have reconciled themselves to moving on without her.
Senior figures in her Workers’ Party, including her political mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, stopped showing at events on a tour she made to rally leftist supporters, and few have spoken passionately about her right to remain in office. “People are confronted with a very exhausting situation that has to come to an end, and Brazilians on both sides are ready to close this process,” said Jose Moises, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo.
Since May, the presidency has been filled by Michel Temer, a 75-year-old career politician who was vice-president and who heads Brazil’s largest political party. He was unpopular when he took the interim office, and Brazilians’ view of him has not improved in the intervening months, according to polls that say only 11 per cent approve of him – but they appear willing to live with him as the price of an end to the political turmoil that has roiled the country for nearly a year.
The final phase of the impeachment began last Thursday, and debate was raucous, occasionally suspended when it descended into outright screaming. The final vote will likely come Tuesday evening and, should it pass, Mr. Temer becomes president until the next election in October, 2018.
At rallies and meetings with her supporters over the past three months, Ms. Rousseff has promised that, if she were to survive the impeachment trial, she would hold a referendum on whether to call a new election. In a national poll by Datafolha in July, 62 per cent of Brazilians said they favoured the option of new elections.
But both she and Mr. Temer would have to resign for that to happen, and he is now firmly ensconced in the presidency. Her own party made no move to support the proposal, making clear they now view the uncharismatic Ms. Rousseff as a political liability.
More than half of the senators who will vote on the impeachment are charged with, or under investigation for, corruption or other serious crimes, including senate leader Renan Calheiros, who will preside over the vote, and who is accused of accepting bribes.
Eduardo Cunha, the lower house speaker who spearheaded the drive to oust Ms. Rousseff, has been suspended from office and faces an array of criminal charges. Mr. Temer was forced to replace three cabinet ministers within days of appointing his all-white, all-male interim government, because they are accused of corruption, and he himself has been named, but not charged, in a case that is part of Lava Jato.
Former president Mr. da Silva, meanwhile, faces a criminal charge of his own, of obstruction of justice, for having allegedly attempted to interfere in the Lava Jato investigation. And on Friday, he and his wife were also indicted in connection with a penthouse apartment which, police allege, underwent a costly renovation paid for by a construction firm that got government contracts in exchange.
Prof. Moises said that with the vote concluded, Mr. Temer would have new freedom to proceed with a promised agenda of reform, and called him an expert congressional tactician. Mr. Temer has promised a fiscal adjustment, including pension reform and reduced social spending, to stimulate the economy, but these measures will be unpopular with Brazilians already struggling in the contracting economy.
“We believe that the economy will start to recover in 2017, but to make it happen, the market needs to see the fiscal adjustment policy approved,” said Rafael Cortez, an analyst with the Sao Paulo firm Tendencias, however, he added, there is no guarantee that Mr. Temer will have sufficient control over a divided Congress to achieve this.
With a report from Elisângela MendonçaReport Typo/Error