Dilma Rousseff impeachment prompts turmoil in Brazil
Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment prompts turmoil
On 31 August, the Brazilian Senate voted 61-20 to impeach former president Dilma Rousseff. Although the outcome of the vote had been largely expected since Congress decided to suspend Rousseff in May, the decision remains highly controversial and has evidenced the significant political divisions in the country. Although President Michel Temer, who was sworn in as president only hours after the Senate vote, has vowed to strengthen the economy, widespread discontent among Rousseff’s supporters raises the risk of civil unrest, challenging Temer’s administration and the security and political operating environment.
The legal process against Rousseff started in December 2015, when the former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, presented a case against her. Rousseff’s impeachment trial was centred on accusations that she manipulated the state budget to boost her re-election campaign in 2014, but so far there has been no evidence that she was involved in any of the high-profile corruption cases that triggered accusations against other prominent politicians, including Cunha and Temer. There is a widespread perception that Rousseff’s impeachment was largely a result of her declining popularity amid a growing economic crisis, with unemployment and inflation rates continuing to rise in the past two years. Apart from the domestic calls for change, legislators were able to read the international financial markets’ opinion on Rousseff’s administration, with the Brazilian stock market going up as the president’s impeachment became more likely.
From the beginning of the judicial process, Rousseff and her supporters have accused her opponents of organising a coup against her. The political animosities intensified when Temer, who was Rousseff’s vice president, disbanded the ruling coalition between his conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT), compelling other politicians to declare their defiance or allegiance to Rousseff, and creating a congressional deadlock that stalled major economic initiatives in the midst of the crisis. Rousseff’s absence at the inauguration ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games hinted the negligible likelihood of a political conciliation.
Regardless of Rousseff’s inability to prevent an economic recession in the past two years, her impeachment raises concerns over the democratic process in a country that suffered decades of military repression. On the day of the Senate vote, thousands of left-wing activists took to the streets to condemn the decision. After President Temer downplayed the protests as “just a small group”, on 4 September, more than 50,000 people marched in Sao Paulo’s main Paulista Avenue to demand Temer’s resignation. Although the march was originally peaceful, riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring several people, including journalists.