Brazil’s Next Must-Watch Event: A President’s Impeachment Trial
AUG. 25, 2016
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RIO DE JANEIRO — The Rio Olympics just ended, and Brazilians are quickly switching their attention to another heated competition consuming the country: the bare-knuckle brawl for the presidency.
On Thursday, the Senate began its impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff, the president who was suspended in May to face charges of manipulating the federal budget in an attempt to conceal the country’s economic problems.
She is widely expected to lose, and senators could vote as early as next week. Her opponents need two-thirds of the 81-member Senate, or 54 votes, to convict her. If they succeed, Michel Temer, the interim president and former vice president, will be president until the end of the current term in 2018.
The impeachment trial could serve as the bookend for one of the most tumultuous periods inBrazil’s democracy, which was re-established in 1985 after a long military dictatorship. Mr. Temer’s scandal-plagued centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party is taking control of the government, supplanting Ms. Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, which is also engulfed by corruption scandals.
“I’m aware that my vote will provoke incomprehension and frustration among friends,” said Cristovam Buarque, a respected senator on the left who has announced that he would vote against Ms. Rousseff. He emphasized the risks of Ms. Rousseff’s potential return to office, listing her often-criticized economic policies and her inability to assemble support in Congress.
In a barometer of the challenges she faces in the trial, senators voted 59 to 21 to indict her this month, formally making her a defendant on charges of budgetary manipulation. A similar tally next week would remove her from office for the rest of the term.
Ms. Rousseff faces broad currents of disapproval across Brazil’s political establishment, most recently from large factions within her own party, which announced their opposition this week to her proposal for a referendum on whether Brazil should hold new presidential elections.
Still, Ms. Rousseff, 68, an operative in an urban guerrilla group in her youth, has vowed to fight until the end. She plans to speak on Monday before the Senate in the capital, Brasília, making her case that she is innocent of the charges of budgetary manipulation, which involved shifting huge amounts of money between state-controlled banks. Photo
Ms. Rousseff also points out that she has never been charged with illegally enriching herself, in contrast to many of the politicians overseeing the push to oust her. Renan Calheiros, the powerful president of the Senate, is under investigation over testimony that he pocketed bribes in the huge scandal surrounding the national oil company, Petrobras.
If Ms. Rousseff loses the trial, Mr. Temer, 75, a career politician with a formal demeanor, will come under even greater pressure. Brazil’s financial markets have recently rallied on hopes that Mr. Temer can push through policies that lure more investment to Brazil, which is enduring its worst economic crisis in decades.
But Mr. Temer is grappling with his own dismal approval ratings and public doubts about his legitimacy. He was recently found guilty of violating campaign finance limits, a case that could make him ineligible to run for office for eight years. A construction executive has alsotestified that Mr. Temer was the beneficiary of a $300,000 bribe. Mr. Temer denies the claim.
He got a taste of what many Brazilians feel about him during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Mr. Temer only briefly declared the Games open before he was drowned out by a chorus of boos from spectators.
After an array of protests at Olympic venues calling for Mr. Temer’s ouster, he did not even bother attending the closing ceremony. Instead, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, received applause after appearing as Super Mario, the star of the Nintendo video game series, to publicize the preparations for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Mr. Temer has said that putting Brazil’s economy on stronger footing was one of his top priorities. Political allies who supported him in seeking Ms. Rousseff’s ouster are now pressuring Mr. Temer to take bolder action in enacting austerity measures.
Mr. Temer is also facing calls to push through structural changes to address colossal problems like the pensions crisis plaguing governments at the state and federal level. It remains unclear if he can muster the political support to advance measures viewed with skepticism in Brasília.
“I’m unable to believe in politics anymore,” said Douglas Bonckhorny de Oliveira, 39, a street vendor in the Copacabana seaside district in Rio.
“I never liked Dilma but now Temer is proclaiming himself the savior of the nation,” Mr. Bonckhorny de Oliveira said, explaining that while he was resigned to Ms. Rousseff being ousted, he did not believe her removal would improve the functioning of Brazil’s government.
“Turn on the TV and all you see in the news is corruption,” he said. “That makes me hopeless about politics.” sent by Márcia Araújo
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