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September 10, 2016
A FLIMFLAM IMPEACHMENT: THE OVERTHROW OF DILMA ROUSSEFF
Personally incorruptible unlike her nemeses Dilma Rousseff was impeached and
dismissed on the flimsiest of charges
Arshad M Khan
What did Dilma Rousseff do to warrant impeachment? According to her opponents,
she falsified the accounts to exaggerate the health of the economy, a practice not
uncommon among governors. In her case, a fiscal court rejected the 2014
accounting report, which under normal circumstances would have prompted a
revision; instead the Senate plotters seized upon it to draw up impeachment papers.
Yet Dilma still had one ace up her sleeve: Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Lower
House. It is required by the constitution to initiate the process and he had the power
to shelve the request.
Like the plotters, Mr. Cunha had ethics and corruption problems of his own and was
being investigated by a house Ethics Committee for allegedly secret bank accounts.
Unfortunately for Dilma, three members of the Lower House from her own Workers
Party (PT) decided to withdraw their support for Mr. Cunha and to vote against him in
the Committee. Within hours of their announcement he had acknowledged the
Perhaps most striking and ironic is the absence of any personal impropriety on Ms.
Rousseff's part in contrast with her opponents. They were fighting a ticking clock as
Operation Car Wash (Lava Jata) an anti-corruption investigation homed in on them.
Her principal accuser Michel Temer now leading the new government has been
named in two plea bargains where some top officials of Petrobras, the state-run oil
company, have been accused of operating a kick-back scheme.
While Mr. Temer is not personally under direct investigation, he has been barred from
running for office for eight years, stemming from campaign funding irregularities and
election law violations for spending more of his personal fortune than the law permits.
Mr. Cunha, the number two in the plot against her according to Ms. Rousseff, is
reported to have secreted $5 million received in illegal kickbacks in Swiss bank
accounts. His lifestyle belies his declared annual income of $120,000. Leaked
information from investigators revealed a $40,000 splurge on a nine-day family
holiday in Miami, shopping sprees in New York, Paris and Zurich, and a fleet of eight
luxury cars. He resigned tearfully in July three months after commencing the
impeachment proceedings in the Lower House. The house voted 367 to 137 for
At face value the vote appears decisive but the fact is Ms. Rousseff's party the PT
does not command a majority in the House or the Senate. It relied on the support of
the slightly larger PDMP (The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) to govern. This
support was withdrawn as the economy teetered and because of personal squabbles.
There are moreover a host of small parties whose vote was also affected by both the
economy and Dilma Rousseff's rapidly fading poll numbers and public support.
So to the formal vote for impeachment in the Senate, the trial on Wednesday August
31, and the 61 to 20 vote for dismissal comfortably above the 54 votes required. Ms.
Rousseff has since filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, an appeal not very likely
to succeed as constitutional procedures were followed, and the charge though flimsy
was buttressed by the fiscal court ruling.
The PT led the country for thirteen years. In the decade following the election first of
Lula da Silva in 2002 and 2006 and then of Dilma Rousseff in 2010, their policies
reduced poverty by a record 55 percent. Income growth was triple in comparison with
the previous government. Unemployment hit record lows and the real minimum wage
doubled. But it had to be paid for.
After being re-elected in 2010 promising more of the same, Ms. Rousseff came face
to face with reality and reversed course. The subsequent belt-tightening worsened by
a slowing world economy proved her undoing.
Protest demonstrations against her policies and against what then appeared to be the
profligacy of the Olympics loosened her grip. She lost support in the legislature. At
the same time the ongoing Lava Jato investigation made many legislators unhappy.
Then came the fiscal court ruling and a chance for them of escape.
What's in the future? Mr. Temer's government is holding the reins until the next
election in 2018. Corruption is endemic. Within a month of assuming office, three of
Mr. Temer's cabinet members had resigned. Lava Jata was taking its toll.
The PT party is not without taint. Past President Lula da Silva is to stand trial for his
role in the Petrobras kickback scandal -- contractors bidding high for services and
giving kickbacks. Mr. Lula's lawyers claim he is innocent and the flimsy evidence is
based on someone testifying against him in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Another scandal involving the PT relates to paying lawmakers for their votes. From
2005 when the story broke to 2012, 25 politicians and businessmen were convicted
including senior PT members. As can be expected, the Brazilian electorate is fed up.
The economy is in depression due mostly to the worldwide slowdown affecting
commodity prices, seriously undermining Brazil's earnings from its exports of oil, iron
and soya. It shrank 3.8 percent in 2015, the worst since 1981, and is expected to
contract another 3.8 percent in 2016. When you hit bottom, there is nowhere to go
but up. For the time being, it may be the only consolation for the temporary unelected