What just happened in Brazil?
Sixty-one of 81 senators voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff – considerably more than the 54 votes that were needed to remove her.
Now who runs Brazil?
The vice-president, Michel Temer, a 75-year-old career politician, will be sworn in this afternoon and then likely depart immediately to represent Brazil at the G20 summit in China. Mr. Temer is a member of the Brazil Democratic Movement Party, which was once a key part of Ms. Rousseff’s government; it has no real political ideology but has supplied three presidents who have taken power without election in democratic times.
What was she impeached for?
On paper, Ms. Rousseff was impeached for a “crime of responsibility” – breaking federal budgeting laws by juggling state accounts to mask a deficit. Speaking in her own defence, she did not deny the practice, but argued that her actions were not in violation of fiscal responsibility law and that the practice has routinely been used by presidents to get through temporary economic difficulties.
Is that what this is really about?
Not entirely. Ms. Rousseff was de facto also impeached because: she is deeply unpopular, a ham-fisted politician who had no skill navigating Congress and who is now seen as a liability even by her own Workers’ Party; she made a series of disastrous economic policy choices that pushed the country into its worst recession in nearly a century; and she refused to intervene to shut down federal prosecutors investigating a massive corruption scandal involving senior politicians and the national energy company, Petrobras.
So there was a plot?
Ms. Rousseff said so, on the stand on Monday – “The fact that I never bowed to this blackmail was the reason that this process was begun” – and her argument is supported by a series of police recordings in which senior politicians including the chief of the Senate and Mr. Temer’s then-top aide are heard talking about how they could use the impeachment to shut down Lava Jato and “staunch the bleeding” of their party colleagues and friends being swept up in the police probe.
But is she corrupt?
Ms. Rousseff has never been accused of personal enrichment. However, her opponents say there is no way she could have presided over a government running a multibillion dollar graft scheme without knowing about it and that she bears ultimate responsibility. She pointed out on the stand that, while not accused of corruption herself, she is being judged by a collection of politicians who are either charged with or investigated for bribery, kickbacks and illegal accounts. With Mr. Temer now president, all three of the most senior figures in Brazil are being investigated for corruption.
So she’s gone – does that mean the corruption investigation dies?
There’s no doubt that senior political leaders are still looking for a way to shut it down. But the judge in charge, Sergio Moro, has played a deft game, his investigation is hugely popular with Brazilians and enough information, from leaked tapes or plea-bargain testimony, is now public, so it would be near-impossible to simply quash Lava Jato. One possible scenario, advanced by Ms. Rousseff’s supporters, is that Judge Moro will now focus on Workers’ Party figures, particularly former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is indicted on money laundering and also faces obstruction of justice charges in relation to Lava Jato. It’s also possible that pro-Temer forces in the senior ranks of the judiciary could move to shift the case out of Mr. Moro’s jurisdiction, or slowly stifle it in years of procedural wrangling.
It feels like this impeachment has been going on for ages. Is it really over?
The question of impeaching Ms. Rousseff has been formally underway for nine months and whether to start it was debated in the lower house for months before that. It is, very likely, now over. There are reports in Brazil that Ms. Rousseff’s team is preparing a Supreme Court appeal. But it’s not likely to change anything: The Supreme Federal Tribunal will be reluctant to overrule the elected Congress and the top bench has had multiple opportunities in the past few months, as Ms. Rousseff’s lawyers have tried to halt this process, to intervene if they were going to do so.
Will the economy turn around now that this chapter is closed?
According to Mr. Temer, yes, quickly. Most other Brazilians are less certain. It’s true that uncertainty has been a significant factor in eroding investor interest in Brazil over the past 18 months. Mr. Temer says he will pass a broad set of “fiscal adjustment” measures that include changes to pension and labour law, and ending the fixed allotment of government spending to public health and education, in order to stimulate investments and boost market confidence. But those measures won’t be popular with Brazilians already hit hard by the economic crisis, and legislators will try to exact a steep price from Mr. Temer to pass the changes. There is no reason to think that economic growth will pick up quickly, or even that Brazil has “hit bottom,” given that the congressional fight over the fiscal adjustment could drag out for months.
So will there be social unrest?
There will likely be protests. While all Brazilians are wearied by this long season of political turmoil, key social movements including trade unions and landless peoples will be bitterly opposed to Mr. Temer’s proposed legislation and will likely take to the streets. He is deeply unpopular.
What does Ms. Rousseff do now?
In a surprise move, senators voted not to strip Ms. Rousseff of her "political rights", which mean she could stand for election again in 2018. (Fifty-four of the 81 senators would have had to support the move, and only 42 voted in favour). But few people think she will return to politics. She intends to return to her home in Porto Alegre, in the far south of Brazil. She will perhaps consider authoring the tell-all biography that dishes the dirt she did not unleash on the stand.