Brazil’s Rousseff offers favours, ministries to beat 2/3 impeachment vote

Democracies, like free markets, are built on a belief that human beings are fundamentally good. A moral undertone is required for both to operate efficiently. When that compass gets lost, when power corrupts those entrusted with it, miscreants possess the ability to wreak enormous destruction on their countrymen. South Africa has its issues with heavily compromised President Jacob Zuma. It is not alone. The 200 million citizens of the country’s South American BRICS partner have become increasingly vocal against the corruption and misrule of their President, Dilma Rousseff. In Davos this year, the Edelman Trust Barometer showed only 21% of Brazilians trusted Rousseff’s Government, the second worst rating of any country (SA is bottom at 16%). As the excellent analysis below from the Financial Times’s Brazilian correspondent shows, that has now deteriorated to just 10%. In any democracy where politicians operate from a moral base, such an unpopular President would resign. Instead, Rousseff is desperately trying to gather new allies (by promising cabinet posts and other favours) to stave off impeachment next month – a process which requires two thirds of her nation’s Parliamentarians voting to eject her. No authentic public servant would willingly remain when faced by such overwhelming unpopularity, something which makes it impossible for her to govern. It suggests her motivation lies elsewhere. Rousseff was chairman of State Owned Petrobras during the years when billions of dollars were stolen by well connected individuals and, indeed, her own political party. That makes her vulnerable not only to being exposed, but joining her pals behind bars. Given similar plundering of local equivalents like SAA and Eskom – and equally desperate efforts by the Zuptas to retain their grip –  something which sounds terribly familiar to South Africans. – Alec Hogg 

By Joe Leahy – Sao Paulo

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s left-leaning president, has begun talks with smaller centrist parties in an effort to rebuild her coalition and avoid impeachment after her largest ally deserted the government.

Ms Rousseff and her predecessor and mentor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were yesterday scrambling for political support to defeat an impending vote in the lower house of Congress, expected as early as mid-April, that would start a formal impeachment process, her aides said.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (R) and General Attorney Jose Eduardo Cardozo attend a meeting with jurists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (R) and General Attorney Jose Eduardo Cardozo attend a meeting with jurists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

The vote by the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB), a loose federation of regional politicians, to abandon Ms Rousseff’s government on Tuesday has increased the odds of her impeachment and pitches her into direct confrontation with her vice-president, Michel Temer.

Mr Temer, a 75-year-old constitutional lawyer who is also the head of the PMDB, will take over as acting president if two-thirds of the lower house of Congress votes for impeachment, and then officially as president if the Senate supports the motion, also by a two-thirds majority.

“The exit of an important partner . . . opens up political space for the formation of a new governing coalition,” said Jaques Wagner, Ms Rousseff’s chief of staff and a stalwart of her leftist Workers’ party, or PT.

The crisis comes as Ms Rousseff is struggling with what is emerging as the country’s worst recession in a century and a widening corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras that has engulfed her ruling coalition.

From ratings in the opinion polls that were once the envy of most leaders in the western world, she is today one of Brazil’s most unpopular presidents on record. A new poll by CNI-Ibope yesterday said 10 per cent of Brazilians judged her government as good or excellent and 69 per cent as bad or terrible.

Read also: Impeachment season for BRICS Presidents – Brazil’s Rousseff heads for exit

To defeat the impeachment motion at the first stage in the 513-seat lower house, Ms Rousseff will need 172 votes or abstentions, or one-third of the total plus one seat.

The PT and its allies on the left that are explicitly against impeachment control 102 seats, according to numbers compiled by Eurasia Group, a research consultancy.

They might be able to count on some support from independent left parties, which hold another 37 seats. For the rest, they will have to plumb the Congress’s large pool of centrist parties – 13 in all, with 205 congressmen. Most of these have little ideological base and might be won over with promises of ministerial posts, analysts say.

The PT might also still be able to persuade some individuals from the PMDB, which has 69 seats, to remain with the government. Indeed, some people familiar with the matter said several PMDB ministers might leave the party and stay in Ms Rousseff’s cabinet.

The government is painting the move to unseat Ms Rousseff as a coup and is rallying militant supporters in Brazil’s unions, as well as organisations for the landless rural and urban poor, and others. This is leading to concerns there could be street confrontations between her supporters and detractors should the impeachment vote go through. “For us the greater battle here is the struggle for democracy,” said Mr Wagner.

He argued that the allegations underlying the impeachment motion, that Ms Rousseff fiddled the public accounts to present a lower budget deficit, did not constitute grounds for her removal.

Read also: Bloomberg View: Brazil catches anti-corruption fever – jails rich, powerful

The supposed wrongdoing related to the 2014 federal government budget, before she began her second four-year term in 2015, he said. A president cannot be held accountable for crimes that did not occur during his or her present mandate, lawyers say.

Mr Temer is said to be assembling a team to try to pull Brazil out of its economic malaise. But any new government will face challenges in quickly reversing Brazil’s deep budget deficit amid a recession. A PMDB-led government could also face the same problems with the Petrobras corruption investigation, known as Lava Jato, or car wash, that are hurting Ms Rousseff’s administration.

Many of the most important figures in the party have been implicated in the Petrobras scandal, including Eduardo Cunha, the lower house speaker, who is leading the impeachment campaign. He has denied wrongdoing and is fighting moves within Congress to remove him for ethical reasons.

Some left-leaning academics believe the PMDB and its opposition partners are keen to win power in order to curb the Petrobras investigation before it also consumes them.

“The opposition in Brazil wants to vote on impeachment as fast as possible exactly so that it can avoid the Lava Jato investigation,” said Pedro Fassoni Arruda, a political scientist at Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.

(c) 2016 The Financial Times Limited

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