The rise and fall of Dilma Rousseff

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:27 am IST

Published - September 02, 2016 12:28 am IST

The fall of Dilma Rousseff from being one of the most popular politicians to an impeached leader is much more than a story of a “corrupt” President being stripped of her powers by a righteous legislature. The >exit of Brazil’s first woman President brings the 13-year rule of the left-leaning Workers’ Party (PT) to an end. The charge levelled against her is that she used illegal bookkeeping manoeuvres to hide a growing deficit. Though this is a crime in Brazil, several of those who piloted the impeachment process in Congress have themselves been charged with corrupt practices. Almost all the leading political parties, including new President Michel Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, were implicated in the Petrobras corruption scandal. Ms. Rousseff is in fact one of the very few high-profile politicians not to be implicated in the Petrobras scam. Moreover, her presidency was not quite the failure it is made to appear as. She completed her first term and was re-elected in 2014 with a clear majority. Through all this, she purposefully continued the welfare programmes initiated by her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, particularly in the education, health and housing sectors.

To understand Ms. Rousseff’s fall, one has to look instead at the complex layers of Brazil’s polity. It is a comparatively young democracy in which the PT rose to power defying established structures. The power struggle within Brazil’s political class has never been a settled affair. When Mr. da Silva was President, he was able to keep in check the class interests stacked against him with his immense popularity. Ms. Rousseff not only lacked his charisma and mass appeal, but also failed to right the economy when a steep fall in global commodity prices hit Brazil hard. The consequences were devastating: for instance, the Brazilian economy grew 7.6 per cent in 2010, the year she won her first term; it is estimated to contract 3.2 per cent this year. It is amid this economic gloom and nationwide anger against corrupt politicians in the wake of the Petrobras scandal that her opponents used the charges of fudging books to build a case for impeachment. But the impeachment doesn’t solve the problems Brazil faces. The economy is still in the doldrums, and is unlikely to bounce back in the near future given the global headwinds. President Temer is as unpopular as Ms. Rousseff had become, as was evident from the loud boos he received from spectators at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics. Brazil’s opposition may have gained power after a long wait through a parliamentary coup, but the political and economic turmoil is likely to remain for long.

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