Rousseff’s Impeachment Might Solve Little

Brazil is looking at months of political upheaval during which painful economic reforms will likely be put off.

President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil attend a ceremony in Brasília, December 16, 2015
President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil attend a ceremony in Brasília, December 16, 2015 (Carolina Antunes)

Lawmakers in Brazil took the first step toward impeaching President Dilma Rousseff on Monday when a committee voted to initiate proceedings to remove her.

A full vote in the lower house of Congress is expected later this week. If a majority votes to impeach, Rousseff would have to stand down pending a trial in the Senate.

Vice President Michel Temer would then take over. Business leaders are hoping that he will restore confidence and allow Brazil to start climbing out of the economic hole it has dug for itself under Rousseff.

Maybe. But there are many reasons to be skeptical.


For starters, Rousseff and her left-wing Workers’ Party show no sign of quitting. If they fight the impeachment proceedings to the bitter end, it would means months of political upheaval in Latin America’s largest democracy.

Temer, moreover, could be next. A Supreme Court judge recently ordered Congress to see if he should be impeached for the same offensive Rousseff stands accused of, which is manipulating fiscal data in an election year.

Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) is also divided. Whereas the vice president has already outlined more pro-business policies to help lift the nation out of recession, others are still supporting Rousseff.

The split owes much to the party’s lack of principle. The PMDB has no ideology. It exists rather to serve the interests of regional bosses and constituencies. It is better understood as a patronage network than a political party. It backed the Social Democrats when they were the most popular before switching to Rousseff’s Workers’ Party in 2002 when her predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva, won the election.

If Rousseff were to survive the impeachment vote in the lower chamber, expect at least part of the PMDB to reconsider its decision to leave the ruling coalition.

No panacea

Should everything go the opposition’s plan, Brazil would still not be out of the woods.

Brian Winter argues in Americas Quarterly that a Temer government wouldn’t be the panacea investors are hoping for.

Fixing Brazil’s economy is actually pretty straightforward, he writes. It would require austerity, an opening to trade and a war against the bureaucracy that is stifling small and large businesses alike. “But all of these measures will be unpopular in the short term.”

Especially when the left will be decrying every “cruel” and “neoliberal” measure a PMDB-led government enacts.

The PMDB has never been one to go against public opinion. More likely, it will do its best to keep the country together and muddle through until elections can be held.

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