Brazil's lower house of Congress on Sunday voted to impeach the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, sending the removal process to the Senate. In an act of unintended though rich symbolism, the House member who pushed impeachment over the 342-vote threshold was Dep. Bruno Araújo, himself implicated by a document indicating he may have received illegal funds from the construction giant at the heart of the nation’s corruption scandal. Even more significantly, Araújo belongs to the center-right party PSDB, whose nominees have lost four straight national elections to Rousseff’s moderate-left PT party, with the last ballot-box defeat delivered just 18 months ago, when 54 million Brazilians voted to re-elect Dilma as president.
Those two facts about Araújo underscore the unprecedentedly surreal nature of yesterday’s proceedings in Brasília, capital of the world’s fifth-largest country. Politicians and parties that have spent two decades trying, and failing, to defeat PT in democratic elections triumphantly marched forward to effectively overturn the 2014 vote by removing Dilma on grounds that, as today’s New York Times report makes clear, are, at best, dubious in the extreme. Even The Economist, which has long despised the PT and its anti-poverty programs and wants Dilma to resign, has argued that “in the absence of proof of criminality, impeachment is unwarranted” and “looks like a pretext for ousting an unpopular president.”
Sunday’s proceedings, conducted in the name of combating corruption, were presided over by one of the democratic world’s most blatantly corrupt politicians, House speaker Eduardo Cunha (above, center), who was recently discovered to have stashed millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts that have no possible non-corrupt source and who lied under oath when he denied to Congressional investigators that he had foreign bank accounts. Of the 594 members of the House, as the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, “318 are under investigation or face charges” while their target, President Rousseff, “herself faces no allegation of financial impropriety.”
It is highly likely that the Senate will agree to hear the charges, which will result in the 180-day suspension of Dilma as president and the installation of the pro-business Vice President Michel Temer from the PMDB party. The vice president himself is, as the New York Times put it, “under scrutiny over claims that he was involved in an illegal ethanol purchasing scheme.” Temer recently made it known that one of the leading candidates to head his economic team would be the chairman of Goldman Sachs in Brazil, Paulo Leme.
If, after trial, two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, Dilma will be permanently removed. Many suspect that one core objective in impeaching Dilma is to provide a cathartic sense for the public that corruption has been addressed, all designed to exploit Temer’s newfound control to prevent further investigations of the dozens upon dozens of actually corrupt politicians populating the leading parties.