Editorial

Brazil President Michel Temer in trouble

Ever since the unpopular Michel Temer took over as President of Brazil after the controversial impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, clearly it was only a matter of time before another corruption scandal surfaced in the country. Mr. Temer formally succeeded Ms. Rousseff in August 2016 by virtue of being the vice-president and leading the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), a crucial part of the ruling coalition when it came to power in 2014. While the impeachment motion brought Ms. Rousseff down, many leaders in the PMDB were already embroiled in cases of corruption, including the then House Speaker, Eduardo Cunha, who led the motion. Mr. Cunha was indicted in the “Operation Car Wash” scandal in May 2016 involving the state-owned oil company Petrobras, and later suspended as Speaker by the Supreme Court over allegations ranging from intimidation of members of the legislature and obstruction of investigations against himself. Five months later, he was arrested for hiding money received from bribes in offshore accounts. When audio tapes surfaced this month showing Mr. Temer, who was already under investigation for corruption, discussing the payment of bribes with Mr. Cunha, it was hardly a shock. It led to street protests seeking Mr. Temer’s resignation. Predictably, he has refused to resign and instead used force to quell the agitation.

The Brazilian political class, including the ruling PMDB and the Workers Party (PT) that was in power from 2003 to 2016, has been severely discredited over the past few years. Ms. Rousseff’s ouster is clearly a case of the ruling elite finding a scapegoat to escape further investigation into mass graft. The PT had successfully engendered a social democratic regime that combined free market policies during the commodities boom with welfare measures that helped raise many Brazilians out of poverty. Schemes such as Bolsa Familia, former President Lula da Silva’s signature welfare plan, had helped Ms. Rousseff win successive elections. But following the global economic downturn and drop in commodity prices the model unravelled, resulting in a contraction in the economy. The lid over what was a wide-ranging corruption racket involving Petrobras and ruling politicians was also blown, implicating even Mr. Lula. With the discredited Mr. Temer now in power, the PT in crisis and the lack of a clean opposition alternative, public confidence in the government and institutions is at a new low. The hope is that the judiciary and police officials who have taken on the onerous task of prosecuting cases against powerful ruling officials will not give up. If they do, the credibility of Brazil’s institutions will suffer further, and a cynical electorate could well opt for a populist outside the political system, an increasingly visible trend seen in the Americas.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2020 7:01:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/brazil-president-michel-temer-in-trouble/article18595331.ece

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