Can Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff come back?

Can Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff come back?
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Despite the poor performance of the interim government, Dilma Rousseff’s chances remain slim. Michel Temer is now seen as the lesser of two evils and has the hold of the State apparatus.

Since her suspension by the Senate on May 12, President Dilma Rousseff has been fighting hard to repeal the allegations that she violated budget laws and survive her impeachment trial, which is likely to take place by the end of August. To permanently oust her from office, two-thirds (54 votes) of the Senate will have to vote against her, which seems highly probable. It is important to remember, when the Upper House first voted to initiate the impeachment trial, 55 lawmakers were already on board. If this status quo is maintained, the House would have enough votes to impeach her.

Dilma Rousseff won’t leave without a fight

However, Ms. Rousseff is fighting back. Since her suspension, she has engaged with local and international media, propagating her narrative and trying to create a positive momentum for herself.

Ms. Rousseff has suggested, quite reluctantly, that she would favour new elections if she was reinstated in office. This seems to be her last hope to recover popular support and survive the impeachment. The idea has gained some traction in the Congress and among the public opinion over the last weeks. Nevertheless, it is an unlikely gamble, requiring a burdensome constitutional amendment, which would require an improbable support from the Congress.

Lately, she has raised the tone, trying to capitalise on the poor performance of the interim government led by Michel Temer. A recent poll showed that only 13% of the population approve of Mr. Temer’s government. Yet, he still fares better than her.

The interim government is mired in corruption scandals and progress is slow

She is not wrong though. After one month in power, the new cabinet is slowly crumbling due to corruption allegations. Three ministers had to step down after being linked to corruption scandals and this number could grow further as the Lava Jato investigations develop. More tellingly, Mr. Temer himself had to address the nation to deny claims that he took part in a kickback scheme.

The initial good mood arising from the ousting of Ms. Rousseff is rapidly souring. The reforms announced by Mr. Temer are moving slowly, when they are not completely halted. The private sector still has good reasons to bet on the new economic team, but support is likely to diminish if they do not present results rapidly. The problem is that Henrique Meirelles, Minister of Finance, now relies on political bargaining. Also, the lack of legitimacy of the interim government affects his ability to effectively drive reforms. To make matters worse, since he took office, Mr. Temer is rapidly losing political capital and will have to concentrate his efforts on securing a safe margin of Senators voting for the impeachment.

The social security reform for instance, one of his priorities, is now on hold until the local elections which will be held in October. As anticipated, he relies too heavily on the Congress. Asking for the lawmakers’ loyalty on such as contentious reform, as well as the impeachment vote would demand more favours than he could offer.

Michel Temer: the lesser of two evils

Nevertheless, as the polls suggest, most of the country feels they are better off without Ms. Rousseff. The majority of the Congress and a unanimous private sector agree. The issues which lead to the establishment of the process in the first place, namely her ineptitude to compromise and widespread popular dissatisfaction with her government, are still there.

Despite the uncertainties and suspicions over his government, Mr. Temer is a much more palatable alternative for the business sector and the Congress, which has the final say on the impeachment matter. As for the public opinion, there is simply not enough popular support to overturn the odds.

Institutions, businesses and people are worn out after what looks like an endless crisis and they are willing to give Mr. Temer the benefit of the doubt.

Just this week, an independent report commissioned by the Senate was released clearing Ms. Rousseff from the alleged budgetary manoeuvres show was accused. And yet, the press and the public seemed unmoved, which only confirms her hopeless situation.

Political bargaining trumps legal reasoning

Impeachments are a political matter, and technical or ethical arguments will only have a slim influence on the final decision. In the end, the biased opinion of 54 Senators will decide the President’s fate. As the public proceedings at the Lower and Upper House showed, they will not reason based on legal motives, but on the traditional political give-and-take, a practice in which Mr. Temer excels.

And he is not sparing any expenses, indulging the swing voters with nominations and political support. He recently nominated 140 allies for jobs in the government and state-owned companies. Not surprisingly, this decision came just before the President’s final sanction of a new bill improving the transparency and governance of said companies, which will significantly limit the political nominations.

In brief, it is safe to say that most of the Senators have already made up their minds. As for those who are still on the fence, Mr. Temer has the State apparatus on his side and he is willing to use it. The President’s ousting seems to be inevitable, regardless of evidence or arguments that could emerge on the next two months. At this point, only a direct implication of Mr. Temer, beyond any reasonable doubt, with the corruption scandals sweeping the Brazilian political elite could truly change the game.

The Temer alternative remains, by default, less risky for foreign investors as reactions from international markets prove time and time again. Yet, uncertainty will remain until August. Not only due to the risk of a comeback of an embittered Dilma Rousseff, but also for the instability of the interim government itself. The good news is: if he permanently takes office, Mr. Temer will have much better conditions to redress the country. With the Congress and the business sector at his side and the public’s initial leniency, Mr. Temer will be his own worst enemy.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Caio Pizetta Torres

CAIO PIZETTA TORRES currently serves as a senior advisor for the government of Rio de Janeiro within the department of International Relations. He has previously worked for the Brazilian Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva. He has written extensively on international security and Brazilian foreign policy. Caio holds a master’s degree in Public International Law and International Organizations and a bachelor’s degree in International and European Law, both from Panthéon-Sorbonne University.