Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Editorial | In the wake of Brazil's coup

Published:Friday | September 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Dilma Rousseff has been formally ejected as Brazil's president, with more than two years left on terms given to her by more than 54 million voters. The Senate on Wednesday voted 61-20 for her impeachment. Michel Temer, Ms Rousseff's vice president, has been sworn in as her successor.

The pretext for her ouster was, at best, flimsy. Dilma Rousseff, as she argued, was the victim of a parliamentary coup orchestrated by tainted legislators. Put another way, Brazil is facing an affront to democracy, which its friends should tell it is the case, and which Mr Temer should move quickly to fix.

It is accepted that Ms Rousseff's government, and the president herself, had grown unpopular in Brazil as the country's economy tanked under the pressure of collapsed commodity prices, including for oil. She also felt the effect of the corruption scandal involving the state oil company and kickbacks to politicians and political parties, including Ms Rousseff's own leftist Workers Party (PT), which, until her ouster, was in the presidency for 13 years. There are many people who also argue that Ms Rousseff was an ineffective economic manager who failed to implement necessary, tough fiscal measures to avert the crisis.

But it was not for any of these reasons that Ms Rousseff was impeached. Indeed, while some of her party's leaders have been charged or convicted, no one has accused Ms Rousseff herself of corruption. She, instead, was accused of a "crime of responsibility" by front-loading funds to finance the government's social programmes ahead of her re-election in 2014. In essence, the government borrowed from state banks with congressional approval in ways that didn't readily show as borrowings.

Ms Rousseff rejected the charges. In any event, such creative accounting has been done by previous presidents without them being accused of crimes, much more impeached and thrown out of office. Whatever Dilma Rousseff's other problems or weaknesses might be, the real issue was an attempt by her enemies in congress, where the Workers Party is weak, to shut down the corruption investigation and undermine the PT.




It is not unimportant that of a Senate which voted in favour of impeachment, more than half its members, including the president, Renan Calheiro, is subject of the corruption probe. Or that in the House, where the process began, the launch was by the former Speaker, Eduardo Cunha, in the face of his failure to end the investigation and find insulation.

Conventional wisdom is now likely to be that the most important matter for Mr Temer should be the fixing of Brazil's economy. Indeed, markets have responded positively to some of the fiscal moves of his government since he became acting president in May. But that misses a more fundamental point - of democratic legitimacy.

Public support for Mr Temer is as bad as it was for Ms Rousseff. Mr Temer, in the circumstance, would do the country a favour if he resigned and allowed Brazilians to vote for a president whose legitimacy would be beyond dispute.