Rousseff Is (kind of) Gone. What Now?
Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro,
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 17 2016 (IPS) – As expected and widely predicted- Brazil’s Federal Senate has begun the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff. According to Brazilian Law, the president is likely to be suspended for up to six months while arguments are put forth in the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice. At the end of the proceedings, the president may be acquitted of all charges and returned to power or if convicted and found guilty, be deposed and banned from political activity for eight years.
Even though the process has just begun, very few expect Rousseff to survive the political upheaval. The overwhelming result of the impeachment vote make her conviction almost certain. Thus, the transfer of power to Vice-President Michel Temer is widely seen as definitive, and who will serve as president until 2018.
What can one expect of Temer’s presidency? The answer seems to be, very little. The best bet is that the political crisis will continue and, if anything, deepen in the following months and years up to the 2018 elections. The deepening economic crisis will likely continue, possibly mitigated by a “natural” cyclical recovery, which is expected to be minimal due to the probable inability of the newly appointed government to reach some degree of political stability.
Much of the political instability may be due to the peculiar nature of the political support behind the new government. Temer is only the nominal leader of the largest political party in the country, Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB). He is the nominal leader becausePMDB is a federation consisting of regional interest groups not consistently loyal to a central leadership. A party traditionally adept at deal making, it never gives its full support to a government unless it is done with all the regional interests in mind. Temer as president of PMDBhas yielded very little effective power over the party as a whole. The first order of business for a government he leads will be to acquire (and to acquire is the exact term) the support of a number of PMDB groups large enough to provide him with sufficient support in Congress.
The difficulties in such political negotiations have been illustrated by the failures of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva, besides Rousseff herself. Every president tries to buy the support of the party by involving its national leadership only to discover that the party must negotiate the support of each group regardless of the national leadership.
There are ofcourse other parties that were part of Rousseff’s coalition until the eve of the Senate vote. They are small parties devoid of any political ideology or consistent program, they tend to adhere to any government that can further their own interests. Their commitment to any given government is highly dependent on the likelihood of an administration remaining in power. When the government’s chances of survival deteriorate, it’s demise is often accelerated by mass defections from the above mentioned parties.
In the end, the only difference between the coalition that has been dislodged and the coalition that takes over is the substitution of PSDB for Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and its satellites. PSDB is as incapable of stabilizing a government coalition as PT was. The “new” political configuration is therefore just as unstable as the one that is being replaced.
Temer’s new cabinet is promising tough liberal economic.The rhetoric is clearly conservative but the only difference with respect to Rousseff’s post-re-election rhetoric is the proposal of new privatizations as means to improve the financial situation of the federal government. The new finance minister (that Lula da Silva wanted Rousseff to nominate for her second term) has announced the need to control the fiscal deficit even though he is likely to be aware that very little can be done in the short or even mid-term. There has been talk of age limits for retirement, about the need to increase tax revenues (albeit without raising the necessary taxes) and cuts to subsidies for businesses which had increased dramatically during Rousseff’s first term in office. The political viability of these proposals is poor and in a conservative coalition is unlikely to yield any positive results.
The government is perhaps likely be helped by the fact that there are many signs that the economy is bottoming out. Once the economy has reached stagnant levels, there are only two results that can follow: the economy may either remain there, and governments will point to the recently acquired “stability”, or it may begin to recover, and governments will celebrate the wisdom of their policies in promoting this “recovery”. There can be no doubt that any such stability or recovery will be celebrated by the political groups in government and its friends, but nothing of substance will really have changed and the chances of resuming growth any time soon remain slim.
At the other end of the spectrum, there may be a heightening of political conflicts led by organized groups like MST and unions, particularly in the public sector, that will test the resolve of the new government. If the government is unsuccessful in its negotiations with them, its tenure may be reduced and a new period of crisis may begin. If the government relies on violent repression, it will only strengthen the charges that it is the product of a right-wing coup-d’état, with local voters and with the international community, which seems to be responding cooly to the new government’s attempts to legitimize the change of guard.
Rousseff was removed from the presidency shortly after her re-election. Despite attempts by her followers to present her as the victim of a right-wing conspiracy, the facts suggest that she was largely, if not exclusively, responsible for her downfall, as has been argued in earlier posts on this site. The new government will struggle with problems that are very similar to the ones that plagued Rousseff’s first year-and-a-half of her second term. Temer’s chances of success are exceedingly slim, the political crisis will almost certainly continue, and perhaps, deepen, despite any political advantages that may be provided by the ailing economy.