LATIN AMERICA

Brazil faces difficult transition ahead of Rousseff’s likely impeachment

President vows to fight on, while her deputy looks to form new administration

Opponents celebrate Congress's decision to approve impeachment of Rousseff.
Opponents celebrate Congress's decision to approve impeachment of Rousseff.I. Andrade / EFE

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The decision of Brazil’s Congress on Sunday to approve a motion to begin impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff has deepened the power struggle between the two-times leader and her bitterest rival, Vice President Michel Temer, who has reportedly already met leading politicians with a view to forming a new government.

But Rousseff is not out of the frame just yet. “If anybody thinks that Dilma will go along with this, they are very much mistaken,” said former Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo on Sunday, following the vote in Congress when more than two-thirds of deputies backed impeaching Rousseff, delivering her a humiliating blow.

If the Senate votes by a simple majority to accept the case next month, as is expected, Rousseff would become the first Brazilian leader to be impeached for more than 20 years.

If anybody thinks that Dilma will go along with this, they are very much mistaken

Former Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo 

Rousseff stands accused of delaying payments to state lenders in order to artificially lower the budget deficit to boost her reelection bid in 2014.

Opinion polls show more than 60% of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, less than two years after the leftist leader narrowly won reelection. Her popularity has been crushed by the recession and a vast graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras

A Rousseff aide said the government would focus on trying to win support in the 81-seat Senate, where it lacks the simple majority needed to prevent the case being accepted for trial. Given that it currently has the support of only 31 senators, the aide said the situation looked “very difficult.”

The government has been looking to Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros, a crucial but fickle ally of Rousseff’s and no friend of Temer, to delay the Senate vote as long as possible to give it time to negotiate.

Temer is not popular with Brazilians, even those who want to see Rousseff ousted, and is seen by many voters as having stabbed the president in the back.

He was appointed vice president in 2011 after an alliance was created between Rousseff’s Workers Party and his centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party. The 75-year-old constitutional lawyer, with his grey, slicked-back hair and stately bearing, has been described by one pundit as “a horror movie butler from central casting.”

Temer’s loyalty has increasingly been called into question by vague public statements and leaked emails.

If the Senate votes by a simple majority to accept the case next month, as is expected, Rousseff would become the first Brazilian leader to be impeached for more than 20 years

But the business sector likes his plans for fiscal austerity and privatization, and business leaders and academics say he will provide the economic stability Brazil needs.

If Rousseff is impeached, she will have to stand down for 180 days while the case against her is brought. During that time, Temer will have to work hard to implement policies that would make it impossible for Rousseff to return to office, assuming she survives the impeachment process. He has already begun talking to economic advisors with a view to formulating a plan to turn the Brazilian economy round, which has shrunk by 3% since last year. Among the men Temer is talking to are former central bank presidents Henrique Meirelles and Arminio Fraga, as well as former president Henrique Cardoso. “Sacrifices will have to be made,” he has said in recent days.

The Brazilian stock exchange rose briefly on Monday, with analysts saying this was in response to the news of Rousseff’s likely impeachment, and that all that is required for full market confidence to return is the announcement that Temer is taking over the presidency, albeit temporarily.

But Temer will face huge opposition from the Workers’ Party, which will doubtless mobilize supporters to stage street protests throughout the country should Rousseff be toppled. The vice president has denied accusations made by Rousseff that he would cut the Worker’s Party’s welfare programs. Brazilians can expect much more of this kind of politicking in the coming months between a vice president on the rise, a president on the wane, and a Senate president who remains a mystery.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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