Omens not good for Brazil’s Rousseff; can she survive?

Omens not good for Brazil’s Rousseff; can she survive?

Friday, October 9, 2015 6:36 am

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

President Dilma Rousseff claims to detect a glimmer at the end of the tunnel in Brazil’s political crisis, but what she really may be seeing, analysts say, are the headlights of an oncoming train.Twin courtroom rulings this week left Rousseff’s already shaky presidency tottering and now the former leftist guerrilla’s hopes for survival depend on a hostile Congress where powerful forces want her impeached.

Less than a year into her second term, Rousseff faces an economy in steep recession, a corruption scandal engulfing much of the elite, and personal popularity ratings of just 10 percent.

On Wednesday, she put on a brave face to announce that she saw “light at the end of the tunnel.”

But that same day the country’s accounts court, or TCU, declared her government’s budgeting practices illegal — and suddenly she was left fighting for her political life.

According to the court’s unanimous 8-0 ruling, Rousseff’s government broke the law in 2014 by using creative accounting, including taking unauthorised loans from state-owned banks, to cover fiscal holes.

Just one day earlier a different court opened another damaging probe into Rousseff’s 2014 election campaign funding, questioning whether among other alleged malpractices she had taken money linked to the Petrobras bribes and embezzlement scandal.

As if that weren’t enough for one week, Rousseff was also humiliated in Congress, twice failing to gather enough lawmakers to be able to vote on sustaining her vetoes on important laws — political battles underlining her ebbing control.

“In about 24 hours, President Dilma Rousseff suffered a sequence of defeats in the judiciary and legislature that show, with unheard of eloquence, just how fragile she is,” the Folha de Sao Paulo daily said Thursday.

The electoral court’s probe into Rousseff’s campaign funds could in a worst case scenario end in annulment of her 2014 re-election victory. However, that is a distant prospect.

Under Brazilian law, the court’s opinion now goes to Congress for reviews and a series of votes in committees and then the floor. If the government is defeated at each step, impeachment proceedings could be launched.

That could still take months. However, Brazil’s Congress, seething with shifting loyalties, is not friendly territory for Rousseff.

Her biggest danger is the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, an ostensible ally until July when he transformed himself as point man for a campaign to impeach Rousseff — a campaign she says amounts to a “coup plot.”

A weakness of the pro-impeachment lobby has been that it had little to go on, beyond popular dissatisfaction over Rousseff.

“The opposition and those associated with them who want to go down the road to impeachment were waiting exactly for this,” Michael Freitas Mohallem, a politics professor at the FGV Law School, said.

“I imagine it will trigger a more intense effort to go forward with President Dilma’s impeachment.”

Can she survive?

David Fleischer, a political science professor at University of Brasilia, said Rousseff has “destroyed her parliamentary base” and could find her few remaining friends in a weak ruling coalition melting away when it came to impeachment votes.

“In this gloomy situation there is a chance the government may still survive. It may survive because of inertia, because of the political contradictions when you transfer a technical decision (of the TCU) into a political decision,” Petrus said.

– Leadership vacuum –

A major variable is Cunha himself.

Rousseff’s scourge has been implicated in the Petrobras scandal and accused of stashing millions of dollars in Switzerland. He refuses to resign his speaker’s post and says he has done nothing wrong.

Given Cunha’s problems, he may be ready to cut compromises with Rousseff and “negotiate his future,” Petrus said.

The real question, analysts say, is how Rousseff, regularly accused of lacking leadership qualities, will react.

Will she come out swinging — or give up?

“Some people think she might simply resign, but she is a very firm woman, very resolute and thinks she does everything right, so stepping down is not in her modus operandi,” Fleischer said.

With an economy badly in need of reform and the Petrobras scandal exposing a culture of high-level theft, the political games add to Brazil’s sense of dangerous drift.

“It’s a black hole,” Petrus said. “It’s really sad we’re suffering this, that we have no alternatives.”

Reported by Sebastian Smith/AFP

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