Impeaching Rousseff could imperil Brazilian democracy

18 august 2015, 13:41

Brazilians clamoring for President Dilma Rousseff's overthrow should think twice, analysts say, warning that the trauma of impeachment could undermine 20 years of building democracy in the Latin American giant, AFP reports.

The depth of anger against Rousseff was undeniable Sunday when almost a million people poured into the streets across Brazil chanting "Dilma out!"

There are many reasons why Rousseff, 67, became so unpopular less than a year into her second term.

The economy is expected to remain in its 2015 recession through 2016, inflation is close to 10 percent, and the real has lost a quarter of its value against the dollar. 

In response, Rousseff has enacted austerity measures, but that has left her leftist political base feeling betrayed.

At the same time, the sprawling graft scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras has dragged down the Workers' Party's reputation while fueling a general sense of decay at the heart of politics. 

But is impeaching Rousseff or forcing new elections the answer? Analysts urge caution.

"It's very good that people go out and protest and even call for the president's exit, but who would come in her place?" asked Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos.

Perfeito pointed out that the man who has the power to trigger impeachment, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, is under investigation for allegedly demanding a $5 million bribe, while the legal justification for forcing Rousseff from office is far from clear.

She's unpopular, with her ratings at just eight percent, but what has she done illegal?

Despite the huge scope of the Petrobras scandal probe and despite the fact that she headed the company between 2003 and 2010, she has yet to be accused of any crime.

She is the target of a separate, much less visible investigation by the Federal Accounts Court into alleged government accounting manipulations. 

The government says it did nothing out of line with past practices, but the case is the most solid candidate for triggering eventual impeachment proceedings.

  Bitter medicine 

But "impeachment would be a very bitter medicine with heavy side effects," said Michael Mohallem, a politics expert at the Fundacion Getulio Vargas university.

Another potential avenue is a probe into Rousseff's 2014 reelection campaign financing, which could in theory lead to annulling her victory and requiring new elections. That would be no easier for the country, Perfeito said.

"The middle classes want to bring her down by any means, but again, to what end? Is it to call new elections? The business community and the elite are of the opinion that things would get even worse if she left. They aren't for Rousseff, but they consider that getting rid of her would only add to the risk," he said.

British author Kenneth Maxwell, an expert on Brazil, wrote in O Globo newspaper that impeachment would be so damaging that it's unlikely her opponents will dare.

"Dilma will basically survive because the alternatives are bad. Even those who want her out will in the end prefer to keep a weak president," he wrote, noting that her likely replacements would come from the PMDB party, which is deeply implicated in the corruption scandals.

"I'd ask those shouting 'Dilma out!' to think twice," he wrote.

Ironically, the fact that the Petrobras probe is allowed to go forward unimpeded, regardless of the scandal it causes, has shown a positive side to Rousseff's presidency.

"Although she has been weakened and her party is caught up in the corruption, Rousseff has shown a great deal of independence and she has guaranteed the independence of the institutions," Mohallem said. "These are the traits of a strong democracy."

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