Deepening crisis in Brazil

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST

Published - April 20, 2016 12:16 am IST

Brazil’s Lower House of Congress has decided to start >impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff , inflicting another blow to her and her embattled left-wing party. Ms. Rousseff’s popularity has eroded fast over the last year with a deepening economic crisis and a spreading corruption scandal, in which several of her Workers Party (PT) leaders have been implicated. Some of her recent moves to ride out the crisis, such as appointing former >President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her Chief of Staff, backfired in the face of legal, congressional and political opposition. Even crucial allies in Parliament such as the centrist >Brazilian Democratic Movement Party deserted her , providing her rivals the required number of votes in the Lower House to send the impeachment motion to the Senate. It is not yet clear whether her rivals will secure a majority in the Senate to impeach the President. But Brazil appears set to become even more deeply politically polarised given the resolve to press ahead with the impeachment process against a backdrop of daily street demonstrations by those for and opposed to Ms. Rousseff and a virtual collapse of governance.

Few would have imagined that Ms. Rousseff would be engulfed in such a crisis when she was re-elected two years ago, extending the PT’s rule to a fourth consecutive term. Though her margin of victory was not large, it was still comfortable. But ever since her re-election, Brazil’s economy has been on a downward slide, with global commodity prices falling. Ms. Rousseff could do little as the economy slowed down, then stalled and finally slid into the worst recession since the 1930s. Her immediate response was to slash public spending to rein in the deficit, which alienated the core support base of the PT, the working population. Undercut by economic troubles, Ms. Rousseff became an easy target for the opposition, which sniffed an opportunity to end the seemingly interminable PT rule. The opposition’s claims that its battle to remove Ms. Rousseff is a fight against corruption is a cover for a larger power struggle. The President has not been implicated in any corruption case. The impeachment motion is based on allegations that during her 2014 campaign she manipulated government books to hide the real numbers relating to Brazil’s deficit. Ironically, many of her rivals, including House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the leader of the impeachment campaign, face serious corruption charges. Yes, it is true that Ms. Rousseff could have managed the crisis better. Her ineffectiveness in addressing the country’s vital problems and failure to take allies along are cases in point. However, the opposition’s bid to oust an elected President based on unproven charges of fudging accounts exposes a more Machiavellian game plan. If the impeachment goes through, it would set an unhealthy precedent for a country with a history of coups.

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