A new path opens for Brazil’s government after Supreme Court cancels impeachment process
By Pedro Marin, published in Global Independent Analytics, Monday, Dec 21, 2015 (and more readings on the situation in Brazil further below)
Now it’s in Dilma’s hands: to live under the market’s diktats or to fulfill her promises with the people
Victory after victory, Brazilian President Dilma Roussef may have had her most tranquilizing week in months. It started last Sunday, when color-revolution like movements such as Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement) and Vem Pra Rua (To the Streets), which are, according to an article by Brazilian investigative agency A Pública, sponsored by American conservative think-tanks, organized various pro-impeachment demonstrations across the country.
According to Datafolha Survey Institute, 40,000 people went to São Paulo’s pro-impeachment demonstration on December 15, which was the biggest in the country. That’s a fifth of the people who used to attend those protests. As demonstrations last week were the first since the impeachment process against Dilma started earlier this month, it was seen as a chance to measure how many people kept supporting it. (Datafolha says there were 76,000 people in total in the streets of Brazil on Dec 15 calling for impeachment.)
By contrast, according to data from the same institute, 55,000 people attended an anti-impeachment rally in São Paulo on December 16, organized by various popular social organizations and trade unions. Apart from demonstrating against the impeachment process, the protesters also urged Dilma to change her government’s economic policies and demanded an annulment of Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha’s mandate as speaker. Cunha, who decided on the impeachment originally, is himself under investigation for allegedly participating in a scandal involving Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras and having secret foreign bank accounts in Switzerland.
Also on December 16, Brazil’s Supreme Court began ruling over the impeachment process. The final votes came in on the next day, cancelling the impeachment proceedings adopted by Cunha against Dilma and thus determining that all impeachment proceedings will have to start from scratch, as the judges found the proceedings Cunha decided to adopt had irregularities. The new proceedings will follow these rules:
1. As opposed to Cunha’s first impeachment decisions, the new special committee will be elected. That makes the demonstrations – either pro or against the impeachment – even more important, as people will know how their representatives stand on the impeachment process.
2. Previous Special Committee voting had two slates running. The winning slate would have half of the Special Committee’s seats. The official rules stated that there could be only one slate, composed of deputies of all parties, appointed by each party’s leaders.
As pro-impeachment deputies were unhappy with their own party leaders’ choices, arguing the first slate was too pro-government, they decided to create an alternative slate – a majorly formed by pro-impeachment deputies. This slate ended up being elected, which means that half of the Special Committee members will be pro-impeachment.
The Supreme Court Justices ruled this proceeding was irregular, and decided that only the party leaders can appoint the slate’s members, which benefits Dilma, as most party leaders are her allies.
The Special Committee will now be formed by a unique slate, whose members will be appointed by each party leader. The number of deputies from each party on the Special Committee will be proportional to how many lawmakers each party has in the Chamber of Deputies. After the slate is formed, Brazilian lawmakers will vote either approving it or not. [See explanatory note #2 below.]
3. After the special committee’s evaluation on whether the impeachment must go on or not, the Chamber of Deputies will rule. It will take 342 votes of all 513 deputies to get the impeachment approved.
The Supreme Court now established that if the deputies vote for the process’ continuation, the final decision will be taken by the Senate, whose members may vote for or against the impeachment too. In the Senate, the process would need 54 votes of all 81 representatives to get it approved. That helps the government because Dilma has more support in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies.
But apart from all this, the government had a greater victory: Cunha’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (BDMP) , which is one of Brazil’s biggest parties, is now divided over Dilma’s impeachment as it has never been before.
Two factions are fighting within the party over the process, which led to the replacement last week of BDMP ’s leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Leonardo Picciani’s, as the pro-impeachment faction didn’t like Picciani’s appointments to the Special Committee slate. But Picciani, who is seen as a government ally, recovered his position last Thursday, which surely benefits the government as well.
Also, the new impeachment proceedings will only take place in February 2016, as the President of the National Congress, Renan Calheiros, announced the parliamentary recess, which starts on December 23 and ends on February 2. That means both Dilma and opposition now have more time to strategize.
A new path
All these victories opened up a new path for Dilma’s government. Last Friday, she appointed the current Planning Minister Nelson Barbosa to replace the unpopular Minister of Finance Joaquim Levy after he resigned.
Levy, a neoliberal economist and a former George Soros employee, had been applying harsh austerity policies, which are the opposite of what Dilma promised during her campaign. These policies included, among others, cuts on public investments – especially in infrastructure – and increases in electricity bills. Key trade union and social movements, which still support Dilma’s government, oppose Levy’s measures, as does the majority of her Workers’ Party militants. They argue these policies impact the poor and say the rich should pay for the crisis.
For his part, Barbosa is seen as a Keynesian and pro-development economist, who has had various disagreements with Levy over his economic measures.
It is essential for Dilma to change her government’s economic policies, as opposition’s tactics now will rely a lot on street protests. Although it was promised that the austerity measures would recover the economy, the government did the exact opposite, and that’s why Dilma’s popularity went down (67% of Brazilians think her government is either bad or terrible).
Now it’s all in Dilma’s hands: In the event she has the courage to change her government’s economic policies and suspend Joaquim Levy’s austerity measures, she may recover some of her popularity and get out of this political crisis strengthened. Of course, that will annoy most of the Brazilian financial elite – and probably some foreign players as well. But that’s a price to be paid by a government that has always presented itself as worker-friendly.
If not, the political scenario will keep deteriorating as the bankers get richer, the public gets poorer, and there’s no way the opposition will give up their attempts to seize power. As Homeless Workers Movement’s leader Guilherme Boulos recently said, to change the minister of finance but keep the same economic policies is to trade six of one for half a dozen of the other.
Either Dilma chooses to live under the market diktats -which is exactly what brought her into the current crisis – or fulfill her promises with the people. The thing is, bankers won’t go out to the streets and defend her. The people, though, already are.
Pedro Marin is the editor-in-chief of the left-wing online journal in Brazil, Revista Opera (Portugese language). The publication is one of the few in Brazil to be reporting closely the NATO military drive against Russia. It is also reporting on the war in Syria and the war by Turkey against its Kurdish population.
Notes by ‘A Socialist in Canada‘:
 Eduardo Cunha is a right-wing evangelical and an elected member of the Brazilian chamber of deputies. He is a leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. The vice-president of Brazil, Michel Temer, is also a member of the BDMP. He was elected in 2010 as the running mate to President Dilma Rousseff and he won re-election with her in 2014.
The STF (Supreme Court) basically ruled that the whole proceeding has to follow the precedent set in the Collor case. So, in the Chamber of Deputies: one slate appointed by party leaders proportional to the number of party’s deputies, and open ballot (no secret vote). This vote is only for the admissibility of impeachment, nothing else. To be admissible, not approved, the impeachment has to have 2/3 of the Chamber’s vote as a whole. The Committee prepares a report to be voted at the plenary session.
If it passes in the Chamber of Deputies, the proceeding goes to the Senate. Here, there will be another vote on the admissibility (simple majority). Then, the Senate, presided by the head of the Supreme Court, will be the legislative body that will actually decide on the impeachment. It has to be approved by a 2/3 majority.
In Cunha’s scheme, Dilma would be temporarily suspended from the presidency for six months if the impeachment was deemed admissible by the Chamber. Now, this only takes place if the Senate approves its admissibility.Chamber of Deputies in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers Party holds 62 of those seats. The party governs in a loose, eight-party coalition which includes the BDMP. In the 81-seat Senate, the Workers Party holds 11 seats and there, too, governs in a coalition. Dilma Rousseff won re-election as president of Brazil on October 5, 2014 with 51.6 per cent of the vote.
* Brazilian democracy in distress: Unpacking Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, by Alfredo Saad Filho, published in The Bullet, Dec 24, 2015
‘The deepest political crisis since the restoration of democracy, in 1985, is closely intertwined with the most severe economic contraction in a generation. The Brazilian economy is spiralling down, partly because of the global turmoil in the middle-income countries, and partly because of an ‘investment strike’ targeting the President’s downfall.’
* Brazil supreme court annuls pro-impeachment committee, Telesur, Dec 17, 2015
* Brazil’s Supreme Court orders disbanding and re-election of legislative committee examining impeachment of country’s president, Wall St. Journal, Dec 17, 2015
Visual guide to impeachment of a Brazilian president (with translation further below):
- Establish a commission of investigation in the legislative assembly
- Arguments for and against impeachment over a period of up to fifteen sessions
- The lower house (Câmara) votes. If it votes against impeachment, the president remains in office (fica). If it votes in favour of impeachment, the process passes to the Senate for debate and vote.
- If the Senate votes against holding impeachment hearings, the president remains in office. If the Senate votes in favour of hearings, the president steps down, the vice-president assumes the presidency on an interim basis, and the Senate must pass final judgement within 180 days.
- If the Senate votes against impeachment, the president resumes office. If it votes in favour, the president is disqualified and the vice-president assumes office.