Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Vote puts pressure on Brazilian president

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff might be forced to step down after a vote in the National Congress, writes Stefan Weichert

Al-Ahram Weekly

The political chaos in Brazil stepped up a notch Sunday, after an impeachment vote on sitting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was held in the lower house of the National Congress.

In a marathon vote that took around six hours, 367 of the 513 members voted against the president, who is charged with manipulating fiscal numbers during her first term by moving money around state-controlled entities to make the state budget look better.

“To rescue the hope that was stolen from the Brazilian people, I vote yes,” said congress member Shéridan de Anchieta, according to The Washington Post. The vote comes only six months before the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The vote does not force the president to leave office. In the near future, however, the Senate will vote on whether to launch an impeachment trial against the president, who has been in office since 2011. If a majority in the Senate vote yes, Rousseff will be suspended during the trial, which could take up to 180 days to complete. In the meantime, Vice President Michel Temer will take office. If Rousseff is found guilty, she will be removed permanently and the vice president will take over until elections are held in 2018.

“Right now it looks like there is 50 to 60 per cent chance that it will go to trial in the Senate,” Riordan Roett, professor and director of the Latin American Studies Programme at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“However, the president will use any measure she has to influence the Senate. But it is an uphill battle, which we clearly saw after the majority decision in the lower house.”

Outside Congress, hundreds of thousands of voters were celebrating after the “yes” vote was announced. While some people called the vote a step towards fighting corruption in Brazil, the president’s supporters called it “coup against democracy”, which was established in Brazil in 1985 after 21 years of authoritarian military rule.

While corruption scandals are common amongst Brazil’s politicians, the country’s problems are not only political. The country has also experienced an economic collapse in the last two years. Unemployment has increased to around seven per cent and GDP per capita dropped from $12,244 in 2013 to $8,689 in 2015, according to statistics available at the financial website FocusEconomics.

The economy has suffered mainly because of falling world prices for commodities, which Brazil’s economy heavily relies upon. The collapse has created the largest economic slump since the 1930s.

“The president is a terrible politician who could not control the opposition,” said Roett. “She did more than her predecessor, when it comes to manipulating the fiscal numbers, but it cannot explain this.”

Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and will probably not step down because she is a “very proud and stubborn woman, who is standing on her principles and thinks that she has done nothing wrong compared to her predecessors,” Roett said.


CONGRESS AND CORRUPTION: In a poll last year made by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, only nine per cent rated Rousseff’s government as very good or good. In general, there is not much belief in the political system. Several members of congress are suspected of corruption and the vice president could face similar charges as Rousseff who, despite being charged with manipulating fiscal numbers, is not charged with corruption.

Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house, who orchestrated the vote Sunday, is himself one of several members who have been accused of corruption.

“But a military coup is almost impossible,” said Roett, “We are just seeing normal people standing up and asking the politicians to fix the country’s problems. However, I think that we would need to wait until the new elections in 2018 before we see any real changes, because half of the politicians are crooks or just bad politicians and need to be replaced.”

Barry Ames, professor of comparative politics at the University of Pittsburgh, explained to the Weekly that the political system is full of flaws.

“There is a low quality of representation in Brazil, which is one of the reasons for these political and corruption problems,” Ames said. “For example, the elected do not always know who elected them. It is often a coalition of others, because the system works as an open list and not as party politics.”

He continued, “We have seen examples where somebody with 500 votes got elected to Congress, because somebody else got one million. It gives us some bizarre deputies, where some are under investigation for corruption in the state-run oil firm Petróleo Brasileiro SA.”

Rousseff is the leader of the Workers Party, which is centre-left and has raised public spending to benefit the poor — something both Ames and Roett believe will have to be cut, partly because of the government deficit and partly because of the high level of corruption.

“In Brazil, there is basically only around nine construction companies, which dominate the whole market,” said Ames. “They have a strong interest in government contracts and are willing to bribe people to get them and become extra rich. It is one of the reasons for the high level of corruption in the country.”


THE POOR RICHER AND THE RICH POORER: Brazil has seen the raising up of the poorest at the expense of the rich and middle classes. The change is visible in Brazil, where “you used to only see well-dressed people in the airport, but where the poor now somehow can afford to buy plane tickets,” Ames said.

“We are also seeing politicians discuss whether to have cheap food stands in the airports for the poor,” said Ames. “In general, we are seeing many changes. For example, the middle class can no longer afford a maid. These changes are happening in a country that is very elitist and has problems with racism towards poorer people, who normally have a darker skin colour.”

However despite these problems, Ames does not believe it can get “much worse” than it already is. He sees some positive steps to fight corruption and movements among normal Brazilians to see change.

“But we will not see any major things happening in the next three years,” Ames said. “I don’t think that there is any party that supports lowering the high consumption of commodities, because it will be highly unpopular among some people. However, Brazil needs to reduce its consumption and raise investment in transportation, schools and health care, to kick-start the economy. And, of course, the politicians will need to steal less.”

Roett agrees, adding that no matter what happens in the Senate, Rousseff will not have much influence in Brazilian politics going forward.

“Even if she is not convicted, she will be a lame duck president who will get nothing done until 2018, while investigations on her will continue,” Roett said. “She will be a figurehead and nothing more than that.”

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