Brazil’s Senate has begun the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff and could permanently oust her as soon as next week. It’s the latest crisis in a traumatic year in which the country has faced a Zika epidemic, a recession and controversies over the Olympic Games.
But many in Brazil seem to have decided that Rousseff’s fate is already a done deal. That makes her trial a much less attractive spectator sport than nail-biting Olympic finals.
There are signs that many have switched off from a protracted impeachment drama that has dragged on since December, when the process was unleashed by Eduardo Cunha, then speaker of Brazil’s lower house.
“Nobody’s talking about it,” said Antonio Rabelo, 27, an information technology consultant in Sao Luis, capital of the northeastern state of Maranhao. “There is a lack of interest in the subject.”
Temer has told local media he expects to have enough senators on his side to finally sack his rival.Political insiders, the media and even many of her supporters predict that Rousseff will be removed from office when the Senate casts its final vote, expected on Wednesday or Thursday. If 54 of the 81 senators vote to definitely oust Rousseff, she will be replaced by Michel Temer, her former Vice-President. Temer took over as interim President when the Senate suspended Rousseff on May 12 following a raucous lower house vote that overwhelmingly called for her removal.
“It is a process that drags on, but I think it will be resolved,” said Sylvio Costa, a Senate employee who runs a watchdog site called Congress in Focus. He said there was “no doubt” Rousseff would be removed.
The trial began yesterday, 35 minutes late, with an address by Ricardo Lewandowski, president of Brazil’s Supreme Court. Lewandowski, who is presiding, said the Senate would “perform the serious constitutional assignment of deciding the future of a president elected by popular vote, accused of the crimes of responsibility”.
Rousseff is accused of breaking fiscal laws by issuing decrees on spending without congressional approval and leaving a state-owned bank to pay a low-interest financing scheme for family farmers for months before reimbursing it – an unauthorised credit operation.
Brazilians march in Rio de Janeiro calling for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, including a woman with a sign that says “Dilma Out” in Portuguese. Photo / AP
Rousseff denies the charges and argues that other presidents, mayors and governors frequently have used similar budgetary devices. Her supporters argue that her removal amounts to a coup d’etat.
“This is a parliamentary coup,” Jorge Viana, a senator from her Workers’ Party told the Senate’s TV channel yesterday.
The popularity of Brazil’s first female President, a former Marxist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured by the country’s military dictatorship, plummeted after she won reelection by a whisker in 2014. As Brazil slumped into its worst recession in nearly a century and a gargantuan corruption scandal swallowed up members of her Workers’ Party and its allies, she faced mass street protests calling for her ouster.
Since then Rousseff has recovered some of her standing after leading a noisy campaign in her defence, recruiting support worldwide and galvanising left-wing backing in Brazil.
“The only thing that kills anti-democratic parasites is the oxygen of debate,” Rousseff told a meeting in Brasilia on Thursday.
But despite demonstrations, occupations of public buildings and support from Brazilian actors and musicians, Rousseff has been unable to mobilise a majority behind her. Instead many Brazilians seem to have given up on her – even though Temer’s approval ratings are just as low. He and ministers in his Government have also been tainted by allegations in the same corruption scandal, and former speaker Cunha is suspended and facing corruption charges.
“There is a sense of the air being cleared and a new beginning,” said Thomas Trebat, a former Wall Street analyst who is the director of Columbia University’s Global Centres in Rio de Janeiro. “The problems are still there, but there seems to be a political consensus that this is the way forward.”
Financial markets blamed Rousseff’s economic policy for Brazil’s decline into recession. She said the global economy and the end of a commodities boom were responsible – but her moves to introduce austerity measures were foiled by her Workers’ Party and Congress.
Temer’s Government has announced plans to reform Brazil’s generous pensions system and put a lid on spiralling public spending. In his favour, there are some signs of a recovery in confidence in Brazil’s economy.
“This certainly creates a more favourable mind frame,” said Armando Castelar, a professor of economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Rousseff has vowed to fight to the end. On Tuesday she will personally address the Senate and be subject to questioning. Her supporters hope she can persuade enough senators to change their minds and save her presidency.
“Brazil will stop to listen to President Dilma,” Lindbergh Farias, a senator from the Workers’ Party, told Senate TV.
In a public letter this month, Rousseff admitted mistakes and promised a plebiscite to hold new elections if she survives the vote. But even her own party rejected the idea.
“Nobody liked the idea of new elections,” said Antonio de Queiroz, a political analyst at a trade union Congress lobbying group. “This process came very late.”