Yesterday the prolonged process of removing Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff from office concluded, with the Senate voting 61-20 for her impeachment. Acting President Michel Temer of the PMDB has been formerly sworn in and will see out the full presidential term until 2019, bringing down the curtain on 13 years of PT rule.
Mr Temer is unlikely to enjoy much of a honeymoon. According to last credible data, – some pollsters have been accused of cooking the figures recently – 58% of Brazilians want him out as well, only 2% short of Ms. Rousseff at her most unpopular. And not without some justification: During his time as vice president, his opponents contend, Mr Temer signed off on decrees similar to those which have led to Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment. And perhaps more significantly, allegations have been made by former senior oil executive Sérgio Machado that place Brazil’s new president uncomfortably close to the nexus of the Petrobras corruption scandal currently being raked over by the Lava Jato investigation.
In these fraught circumstances, it can be best to give the political climate a moment to settle. And this has been Mr Temer’s first action, heading off to China for the G20 summit in Hangzhou and leaving the presidential hot potato in the hands of Lower House Speaker Rodrigo Maia.
Meanwhile on the domestic scene, where next for Dilma?
Certainly the last impeached Brazilian president, Fernando Collor de Mello – removed after an influence-peddling scandal in 1992 and barred from office for 8 years – has since gone on to enjoy a fruitful political career, representing the state of Alagoas at federal level. But Mr Collor had time on his side – elected as Brazil’s youngest premier at the age of 40 and impeached by 43, he was able to formerly return to senate politics by 2006. Ms Rousseff, by contrast, is 68 and although she won a separate vote to avoid the 8 year sanction, she is still constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as president and faces a period in the political wilderness, as any impeached politician probably ought.
Nonetheless, she has vowed to fight on, claiming in a speech to supporters that this is not the first coup she has faced, referring to the 1964 military takeover. Allies were quick to rally round, PT senator Lindbergh Farias taking to Twitter to echo the coup claims.
The refrain of “coup” has been a popular one among Rousseff supporters throughout the impeachment process. Yet, as this blog has noted before, their numbers tend to fall away when it comes to denying that the Rousseff government broke Art. 36 of Complementary Law 101:
The provision of credit between a state financial institution and the Federal entity that controls it is prohibited.
The penalty for which is stated in Art. 2 of Law 1079:
The crimes defined in this law, even if attempted rather than accomplished, are punishable by loss of position.
Instead Brazil’s former president and her allies prefer to denounce the impeachment as cynical and politically motivated. This will come as a surprise to few, since politicians tend to be a a) cynical and b) politically motivated, a prime example being Ms Rousseff’s own PT which, during its 12 years in opposition between 1990 and 2002, tabled no less than 50 impeachment motions, for a rough average of one every 3 months.
Predictably, ire over the impeachment has been regional as well as domestic. Never slow to miss an opportunity for political posturing while its citizens starve, Venezuela has suspended relations with Brazil, while fellow left-leaning governments in Bolivia and Ecuador have recalled their ambassadors. Symbolic though these actions may be, they threaten to add heat to diplomatic tensions already simmering across Latin America. Earlier this month, the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry is purported to have accused Brasilia of attempting to buy its opposition to Venezuela assuming presidency of the MERCOSUL trade bloc.
Mr Temer’s trip to China had better be a crash course in diplomacy – it’s needed now more than ever.