The country’s political system suffers from a crisis of legitimacy
Joe Leahy in São Paulo/FT
Protests are common in Brazil these days. There are those against President Dilma Rousseff, whose members generally sport the green and yellow of the country’s flag, and there are those in favour of the leftist leader, whose supporters dress in the red of her Workers’ party, or PT.
But late last month on Avenida Paulista, an important São Paulo thoroughfare, a new kind of demonstration was seen. Bearing banners declaring “Fora Todos” or “Out with them all”, a group of young people called for the removal of Ms Rousseff and all of Congress through new elections.
The increasingly Byzantine nature of a battle to impeach Ms Rousseff means more and more Brazilians are bound to throw up their hands in confusion and disgust and join the Fora Todos movement.
Indeed, the political scene in Brasília, while often compared to the US television series House of Cards for its complicated political intrigue, is increasingly starting to resemble instead the rival zombie TV series, The Walking Dead.
Through their involvement in corruption or just their cynical opportunism, Brazil’s main political actors are rapidly losing legitimacy in the eyes of a tired electorate.
Take the events of recent weeks as an example. President Rousseff — deeply unpopular, presiding over what is emerging as Brazil’s worst recession in a century and with her party accused of rampant corruption — is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the public accounts to window-dress the budget deficit, charges she denies.
In March, her main coalition partner, the centrist PMDB party, the largest grouping in Congress, abandoned the government in preparation for impeachment. Its leader, Michel Temer, is also the vice-president. He would therefore take over as president if Ms Rousseff is impeached, a process that could start as early as this month.
So far so good. Confusing the matter, however, is that the PMDB is also up to its ears in corruption allegations, particularly in relation to a scheme at Petrobras, the state-run oil company. PMDB heavyweight, lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, is under investigation for stashing money from corruption in Swiss accounts — allegations he denies. Meanwhile, another PMDB leader, Renan Calheiros, the head of the Senate, is accused in another corruption case.
In spite of these allegations, both are presiding over the impeachment — Mr Cunha in the lower house and Mr Calheiros if it reaches the Senate, where the trial of the president would be conducted. Their involvement robs impeachment of some of its legitimacy as many analysts believe they want to enter power to help protect themselves from the investigations.
Mr Temer, so far, has largely stayed out of the corruption investigations. But a Supreme Court judge ruled last month that Congress should consider impeachment proceedings against him too on similar grounds to Ms Rousseff.
To muddy the waters even further, a pro-opposition group then countered with a petition to impeach the judge who ordered the impeachment of Mr Temer, alleging the judge breached the separation of powers by telling Congress what to do.
With everyone being impeached or in danger of impeachment or implicated in corruption, the “Fora Todos” movement is gaining ground. A popular previous presidential candidate, Marina Silva, and newspaper Folha de S.Paulo in an editorial have championed this line.
The problem is that while the idea of a clean-slate approach is attractive, there is no clear constitutional way of calling fresh elections unless Ms Rousseff and Mr Temer are both impeached, have their mandates annulled by the election tribunal, or resign. With both showing no signs of willingly stepping aside, the impasse is unlikely to be resolved quickly.
In the meantime, Brasília’s walking dead politicians are threatening to turn a country that was once among the most vibrant global growth stories into the zombie economy of the emerging world.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016.
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