Top 10 reasons why Rousseff’s impeachment is so unlikely
Foreign media doesn’t get nearly as much of that talk, but if you are in Brazil all that you hear in the political debate is based on to impeach or not to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. After all, her administration’s popularity has sunk to 10% in the most recent Datafolha poll, the Petrobras scandal is still at full steam, a recession will make the country’s economy dip at least 1% this year and her support in Congress has been shattered by conservatives. A few decades ago that could have been enough for her to be ousted. Brazil today is much more complicated than that. Japanese holding Nomura, which is usually spot on in Brazilian affairs, believes there is a 30% chance of the incumbent being removed in the first year of her second term — she won reelection in October last year. Of course revelations can change those figures, but I believe them to be even lower than that. Here is my list:
10 – Corrupted funds used as donations is just a theory — The main accusation against Rousseff in Electoral Justice was made by the head of a constructor. He said he was pressured into making a R$ 7.5 million donation that came from funds embezzled at Petrobras. But until recently those very donations were considered licit. How could there be proof that donations are actually a result of bribery? Specially when opposition candidates did fund raise similar amounts with the same constructor? Members of Electoral Justice have already leaked that invalidating Rousseff’s and her vice-president Michel Temer’s register for that reason would look like a coup.
9 – If Rousseff’s ticket is invalidated, all bets are off — Let’s assume Brazil’s Electoral Justice decides, for the first time ever, to remove a sitting president and her Vice-President. The Speaker of the House, conservative and very very controversial Congressman Eduardo Cunha would take over for 90 days. Then there would be an election, the Constitution says. Sure? That is a man who has bulldozed every opponent since he became Speaker in February. No one believed that he would get to that position, specially because he has been involved in dozens of scandals in the last 25 years. He introduced loads of legislation to embarrass Rousseff and he has counted on the support of the opposition. Why wouldn’t he, as President, use his conservatives in Congress to define electoral rules that suit him? How much damage could there be with this highly suspicious and anti-civil rights politician at the Palácio do Planalto? Even those in the main opposition party, PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), believe that can a very big risk to run. If Cunha left after 90 days and there were an election, surely senator Aecio Neves, defeated last year, would be the favorite. But former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could run and win. A recent poll puts Neves ahead of Lula, but it also says 50% of voters think Lula was Brazil’s best president ever.
8 – If there is a new election before 2018, PSDB will have big fight — Neves was narrowly beaten by Rousseff last year. Too bad for his supporters. Even worse for him: he lost the administration of battleground state Minas Gerais to a close friend of Rousseff’s. And his main adversary in his party is Geraldo Alckmin, reelected governor of São Paulo, the richest state in the land. Alckmin ran for president in 2006 and was widely beaten by President Lula. Neves strong challenge to Rousseff would surely made him be considered for the 2018 presidential spot. But there is no doubt that Alckmin has an upper hand for the next campaign. If Rousseff and Temer are ousted and new elections come, Alckmin would have to resign as governor of São Paulo so he could be eligible. He would have to fight Neves’ recall. And he would lose the advantage he would almost naturally get in the next 3.5 years. Also in 2006, a similar fight took place. Alckmin was already governor and he was behind São Paulo mayor José Serra in the polls. The standstill lasted a year, with Alckmin emerging victorious in a dangerous game of patience. In the end, PSDB was not really united around him. They lost to Lula.
7 – Federal Court of Accounts rulings aren’t clearly impeachable — Brazil’s Federal Court of Accounts (TCU in Portuguese) is part of the Legislative branch. Their audits on Rousseff’s books are said to consider irregular the fiscal manoeuvres adopted last year to fix deficits. Their decision should come in the middle of August, when another anti-Rousseff protest is scheduled to happen. TCU experts suggest that Rousseff’s administration violated the law of Fiscal Responsibility — a ruling that they have never reached in any case until today. Government ministers refuse the accusation and say other administrations used similar accounting tricks. Some members of TCU already discuss publishing a report that doesn’t openly reject the manoeuvres, but give just enough grounds for Congress to debate the matter. If Congress decides to do that, they would have to follow one of two paths: to vote accounts of previous administrations until they get to hers or vote to audit Rousseff’s accounts before all others. Not a simple task. In case the TCU ruling is used by the rebellious congressmen, they would argue that Rousseff alone is responsible for the manoeuvres. That would open the possibility for her to be impeached and Vice-President Temer to stay. The new election would still be in 2018, which some think is more gregarious (!!!). Temer is also involved in a series of scandals, some of which originated the current Petrobras investigation. In any case, it is a long road to drive.
6 – Former President Lula is still a player — A recent Ibope poll shows Neves beating Lula if there were an election today. Lula would be tied with Alckmin. That means the head of the Worker’s Party (PT) is still competitive despite all the recent turmoil. A coup could turn his party, which is deeply engulfed in the Petrobras scandal, into victims. In 2005, after a huge kick-backs for political support scandal in Congress, Lula went through the same threats of impeachment and, unlike Rousseff, he thrived on them to be reelected. Until 2018, with Rousseff being so unpopular, Lula might have more difficulties to consider running again. If her protegee is impeached, there is no doubt he would run. Bear in mind that the opposition fears the former president so much that they helped Cunha pass legislation to end reelection — a measure that PSDB created in a very suspicious and controversial operation in 1998, so Fernando Henrique Cardoso could get a second term as president. In the words of a conservative friend, “it is probably best to make them bleed until the next presidential election.”
5 – Most businessmen want stability — Even some of those that voted for Neves have come out in defense of Rousseff’s mandate. One of those is Rubens Ometto, owner of biofuels conglomerate Cosan. “The administration is on the right track. We have to hold our anxiety. I am a capitalist, I like to see the direction she is taking in her second term.” Another one, a much bigger that I promised not to name said in a recent meeting with other businessmen that he is “100% against” Rousseff being impeached. Of course they would adapt if new circumstances came out. But they seem to prefer business friendly measures from a government that is stable. A shaky political environment doesn’t help much in a recession year in which Petrobras and major constructors are not as active because of investigations. Those that operate internationally also care about Brazil’s young democracy not being questioned by foreign counterparts — specially right after Rousseff visited U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
4 – The Worker’s Party has a base — When President Fernando Collor was impeached in 1992, he had lost all his friends in politics. Despite her job unfriendly budget cuts and the corruption scandal involving key allies, she has kept the support of so-called leftist parties, Brazil’s biggest union and the most organic and traditional social movements. If she is at real risk of impeachment, the country would boil. Neither the opposition nor businessmen want that. Her low approval ratings could be easily forgotten — and Brazilians are that volatile, she had 80% job approval before the June 2013 protests. PT is surely nothing like it was decades ago. Their ethics are substandard, to say the least, their partners in crime are the same conservatives that want to see Rousseff out and their dependency on Lula has become crippling. But PT still harbors politicians who have a real relationship to their base. That is not a detail in moments like this.
3 – Those that want Rousseff out are involved in scandals themselves — There is no doubt the investigations on Petrobras can lead to new information that makes the president completely nonviable. But every Brazilian knows it is more likely to see that happening to the Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, and the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros — both new adversaries to the administration. Brazil’s Attorney-General is already investigating both of them. Congress experts say they only remain in power because they bet on looking independent from the Palácio do Planalto so that the opposition doesn’t want them out. How long can that friendship last? If the Cunha and Calheiros had been indicted years ago, opposition leaders would be demanding for them to leave. What if those two become even more compromised in the investigations? If the opposition is silent, Justice can remove both from their offices if there is proven proof of their involvement in the Petrobras scandal. Another potential adversary, the head of the Federal Court of Accounts, conservative Aroldo Cedraz, was implicated in the scheme this week. His son was accused of leaking TCU information to constructors…
2 – It is not simple to show a president out — Sorry to my friends of countries that recently experienced coups, but it is a fact that Brazil has built a steadier democracy since the end of the military dictatorship. Flawed, but vigorous. Many of those who voted for the opposition are against impeaching Rousseff. And their reason is simple: she won a clean election. In 1992, when Brazil’s democracy was much younger, it took a long process for President Collor to be impeached — and he had no political support. This time the bets are much higher. Brazilian media is surely printing loads of stories to suggest otherwise, one of them said that Rousseff could be out by September, but these stories are often a product of a Brasilia-oriented mentality that doesn’t count the rest of Brazil. So far the only open anti-impeachmment statement Rousseff has provided was a challenge. “Come and try,” she said to Folha. It is not as trivial as some suggest.
1 – There is no smoking gun against Rousseff — It all comes down to this motive. Everyone, even in the opposition, knows that the president is not corrupt. Those who say otherwise are often sore losers. Even those in opposition who initially pointed at her because she chaired the board of Petrobras don’t even make that point in Congress. After all, chairing the board of Petrobras is far from meaning she had any control over it, since that is the Petrobras president’s job. Aecio Neves running mate in the last elections, Aloysio Nunes, has said that himself that Rousseff is “respectable.” When President Fernando Collor got impeached in 1992, everyone knew that he was personally embedded in the scandal. The key piece of evidence was a car paid for with funds derived from corruption. Not even Rousseff’s staunchest adversaries believe she made money in the Petrobras scandal.