Dilma Rousseff lost a vote instigating impeachment proceedings against her in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress ten days ago. In a decisive defeat, 367 deputies voted to support her removal, clearing the two- thirds threshold needed to pass the motion. If the Senate confirms the decision of the lower house, as it may do, Rousseff’s impeachment will be complete.
What’s the context here? How has a leader, once the most popular in the world, a trial-blazer as Brazil’s first female leader and enjoying favourability figures above the 90% mark, been driven to the cliff edge, clinging on to her position by little more than fingertips?
The reasons are as complex as you’d expect from a corruption scandal. It comes down to money laundering allegations involving the former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. But the scandal has engulfed the entirepolitical elite. To give a measure of scale, the figures implicated have been the leader of the opposition, the speaker of the lower house, the president of the senate, the vice president, Lula and Rousseff – who, for the record, was chair of the implicated Petrobras from 2003 through until 2010. Rousseff, after a request from Brazilian prosecutors to detain Lula, made her predecessor a cabinet minister. Why would this be? Because cabinet ministers enjoy political immunity from every policing body with the exception of only the Supreme court. For their part, supporters of Lula have accused the opposition of attempting a coup and conspiring against the Workers Party that he and Rousseff are members of. All of this against the backdrop of a 3.7% contraction in the economy last year and the worst recession in a generation. A level of political controversy we cannot comprehend.
So what’s the take away from this? Brazil is in the world’s eye for a number of reasons over the past few years, not least because it was expected to be emerging as a leading economy, rather than struggling so badly. The 2014 World Cup was hosted in the country, with much controversy, as money was spent on new stadiums rather than desperately needed local infrastructure. And now, in just four months’ time, the country is due to hold the largest sporting event on Earth. Three million people protested against Rousseff before the impeachment vote, rallying on the streets as Brazil continues to struggle with increasing wealth inequality and crippling poverty as their political elite are accused of taking kick-backs from oil companies. With the Rio Olympics just around the corner, there are serious concerns that Brazil has begun to disintegrate when it all looked so positive. As the Panama Papers begin to fade away from our front pages, Brazil reminds the western world of how to do a proper scandal.