Brazil’s opposition plays with impeachment as if it were a walk in the park
President Dilma Rousseff narrowly won the elections in October last year. Her cabinet is very likely the worst ever. The titanic corruption scandal at Petrobras will deprive her from important aides, ministers, key Congressmen and Senators. Perhaps even her Vice President. The economy is bound for another sluggish growth cycle and all that her Finance minister can think of is cutting expenses. She has had clear difficulties in dealing with politicians and in being more proactive in her second term. Sounds like bad governance. Still not enough for Brazil’s opposition to suggest she should be impeached.
No, there is no link between Rousseff and any of the corruption cases in the media these days. It is nothing like the days in which former President Fernando Collor got thrown away from office, in 1992. But there are opposition members who mention the I word as if her being involved were a given. It is actually far from that. The Petrobras a scandal dates back to when opposition’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso was president. It got a major boost under her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It surely ran unopposed in the first two years of the incumbent’s first term. But it was a decision of hers in 2012 that stopped it.
Still, some opposition politicians and activists (including many in the press and in the business community) speak of impeachment as if it were just a matter of finding the right way to frame Rousseff. Generic accusations of her not stopping the scheme before or being unaware of it have gained traction as a reason to dethrone her. The 3 million vote advantage she had seems meaningless to a growing number of Brazilians who went for the opposition. Neither does it matter the fact that those next in line are much more likely to be deeply entrenched in the scandal — the speaker of the House, the chairman of the Senate, the Vice President…
For now there are more threats and excited wackos than proper initiatives to take Rousseff out. But it could quickly escalate to something else if the voices of reason remain low — and they have been surprisingly low in the last couple of months. On March 15th there will be a march in favor of the president’s impeachment with the tacit approval of the opposition. Newspaper columnists have argued for and against it without taking much into account the sheer fact there is no direct link between the president and the scandal. A direct link; it takes that for a Brazilian president to be impeached, as our history shows.
So what does the opposition want? Firstly there is a line that separates the two main contenders in the opposition for 2018. Defeated candidate Aecio Neves is playing the role of sore loser and say no to all, by organizing forces in Congress to keep the impeachment talk going. He needs to have some attention in the next few years since he doesn’t have a powerful state to govern anymore (he had Minas Gerais until recently). On the other side is a man full of suggestions of moderation, São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin. He interprets the guy who won’t jump on board with impeachment because it levels the field in his party.
The group that is more seen is obviously the most vocal one. It is hard to say they don’t want a coup, since they are playing their cards accordingly, although in a very early stage. But the better deal for those seems to be to wear former President Lula out so he has less leverage in a more and more likely candidacy for the Palácio do Planalto. To be competitive then, Neves needs Lula to admit, openly or not, that he made a mistake in appointing Rousseff as his successor. Alckmin does better if Rousseff doesn’t do so well, but he has had Brazil’s powerhouse state for the last 20 years — that won’t change until the next elections. Impeachment doesn’t help him.
Wackos that will take to the streets will be counted. Opposition leaders have said nothing against their march and even tolerate those who want the military to come back to power. By March 15 everyone will know who are the 54 people listed in the Petrobras corruption scandal — the vast majority of those are politicians, some are in the opposition too. The divide that was formed in the last elections might go even deeper. But depending on who is shamed by Brazil’s Attorney-General, there can be a boost to the impeachment talk. It is no walk in the park, but those who lost the election seem keen to go that way if they can.
P.S. – Thanks for your patience, it has been long without your company and I surely missed it. I couldn’t keep up with my weekly posts because I was taking part of the very intense and U.S. State Department sponsored International Visitors Leadership Program. My group was focused on transparency and accountability and the main reason I was chosen for this was your interest in this blog. That means I have to thank you for giving me this amazing experience. I mean it. Unfortunately I can’t tell much about our interesting meetings in DC, LA, Sacramento and Dallas — it is all off the record.