Thirty-one years after Brazil’s dictatorship ended, today what seemed to be a consolidated democracy suffered a heavy blow when the first Brazilian woman ever elected president was ousted after a long and torturous impeachment process. In the end, it wasn’t even close. A total of 61 out of 81 senators voted to remove Dilma Rousseff from office. A surprisingly large number for a decidedly unsurprising ending. Michel Temer didn’t wait and was quickly sworn into office this afternoon to end Rousseff’s term.
Thirteen years of Wokers’ Party (PT) rule thus ended, not at the ballot box but a congressional vote.
“This is the second coup d’etat I face in my lifetime,” Rousseff said today in a long text posted online after the vote. With those words, it marked the second time this week she made a direct parallel between the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985) and her ouster from office.
“During the first, the military coup, I endured the truculence of weapons, repression and torture,” she wrote. “The second parliamentary coup carried out today, through a legal farce, removes me from a position for which I was elected by the people.”
To sentence Rousseff to “political death,” as she called it earlier this week, for a fiscal maneuver is like sentencing someone who committed a traffic violation to the electric chair. The Brazilian Senate voted for her impeachment arguing she had used fiscal maneuvers to hide huge fiscal deficits in order to maintain a high level of spending in the run-up to the election. That, in the end, made it more difficult for the country to end its economic crisis, the senators argued.
There was a silver lining for Rousseff. She escaped through a 42-36 vote, short of the two-thirds needed, a measure that would have prevented her from holding public office for eight years. Senators were quick to note that the measure would have had far-reaching implications, preventing Rousseff from, for example, becoming a lecturer in public universities. It served as a reminder that it wasn’t just a country’s future that was at stake, but also the future of a political leader who once fought to free Brazil from a military dictatorship.
Was it a last act of kindness? That would likely be giving the senators too much credit. Lawmakers are already thinking ahead on how to mend a country that has been so divided by politics. Removing her right to hold public office could have clearly been seen as an act of vengeance, one that could deepen the hate among Brazilians and stir social unrest. Besides, if they see her as a political corpse, then why kick the dead?
The political tensions began as soon as Rousseff was elected for a second term. The narrow margin with the other candidate Aécio Neves began to show a rupture within Brazilian society and her deficiencies as a politician. Her small margin of victory tied with her inability to make inroads with Congress, Rousseff’s government began to crumble.
Broadening corruption allegations that seemed to engulf the entire political class, including Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) didn’t help matters either. But no trace of corruption was ever proven to lead to Rousseff. She was never even accused of personal enrichment, unlike so many of the lawmakers who ended up voting for her impeachment.
There were also a few more pragmatic senators who insisted that regardless of what actually happened, Rousseff’s removal will allow Brazil to return to institutional normalcy and for its economy to get back on track after it had been paralyzed by political turmoil. With an inexistent relationship with Congress, they argue, Dilma would have been unable to rule regardless, meaning nothing would get done until the 2018 elections.
Whether that is the case, it does not change the fact that Rousseff’s political enemies, armed with the biased Brazilian media, a corrupt and ambitious Congress, a traitor vice-president and a tainted judicial system managed a victory of once-unthinkable proportions. Those who lost the election are now in power—an extreme case of bad loser syndrome?
In many ways, today’s result is of Rousseff’s own making. Sure, there were those who never accepted her government because of its populist leanings. But she also seemed unable to build ties with Congress, a tireless technocrat, Rousseff often forgot that being a politician often involves smiling at your enemies.
Even her political godfather, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had fallen out with Rousseff for her failure to mend fences with Congress. He warned she was going down a dangerous path, but that advice fell on deaf years. Rousseff failed to forecast the perfect storm that was brewing.
Rousseff has called on her supporters not to despair.
“They think they beat us, but they’re mistaken. I know we will fight. There will be a firmer, tireless and energetic opposition to this illegitimate government,” she said in her last speech as a president.
The ruling party is now the opposition, and Latin America’s biggest economy opens a new chapter.