O golpe é contra o povo e contra a Nação.
“This coup is against the people and against the nation,” former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff stated shortly after being impeached. Although Rousseff blatantly misrepresented the constitutional process that lead to her impeachment, it is evident that her ousting will leave a mark on Brazilian history. Whether this impact is a scar or relief is still widely debated. At present, it seems that the biggest loser may be Rousseff’s Worker’s Party, or PT, which has justifiably come under duress for reasons both related to the impeachment of the former president and uncertain prospects at best in upcoming municipal and national elections. But while the PT copes with its compromised political position, Brazil’s new government will be hard at work trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
The Beginning of the End
Rousseff was removed from office mainly because she delayed the payment of loans to federal banks so as to obscure the debt her government had gradually built. A long procedure ensued, which included the creation of special committees within both houses of Congress, a series of reports investigating whether Rousseff committed a “crime of responsibility”, and plenary voting. In May, following due procedure, the Senate voted to temporarily suspend Rousseff from her role as president, making vice president Michel Temer acting president. Ultimately, Rousseff was removed from office by a 61-20 vote in Senate, and Temer formally assumed the nation’s highest office.
Rousseff’s crime of responsibility was compounded by other negative factors looming over her government. Guilherme Farhat, a partner at Semprel, one of the largest government relations consulting groups in Brazil, said in an interview with the HPR that “the current economic crisis was caused by Rousseff’s poor administration of the economy, which in turn exacerbated the political crisis and served as one of the main factors that caused impeachment.” Indeed, Rousseff’s inability to prevent the economic crisis allowed unemployment rates to rise as her approval ratings plummeted.
Adding fuel to the fire is a sweeping police investigation, Lava Jato (Car Wash), which has identified and indicted a number of politicians for corruption and similar charges. Many other members of the PT have come under scrutiny from the Federal Police due to allegations of corruption. Even former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the PT’s most popular and central figure and currently the party’s most likely presidential candidate, has lost popularity and was formally denounced by the Federal Attorney’s Office. Once one of the most popular parties in Brazil, the PT will certainly face difficulty in the upcoming 2016 municipal elections and 2018 presidential contest.
And underlying these public controversies is a pervading sense that the Worker’s Party is not the party it once was. Minister of Cities Bruno Araújo told the HPR that “the current leaders of the PT have diverged significantly from the founding ideals of the party.” The PT, in its early years, marketed itself as a defender of workers and promoter of social reform, allying with major worker’s unions. However, the actions of the party’s recent leadership indicate that these ideals have been abandoned. One of the original founders of the party, Hélico Bicudo, even went so far as to say that “Lula corrupted himself and Brazilian society.” Araújo’s point aptly describes one of the reasons many people expect PT to perform poorly in the upcoming elections.
What Does This Mean for the Municipal Elections?
In Brazil’s multiparty system, there are two rounds of voting. The first round of this year’s municipal elections will include many candidates and occur on October 2. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the popular vote, a second round of campaigning begins between the top two candidates from the first round. This ends on October 30, when another vote would elect the majority winner. Fernando Bizzarro is a PhD candidate in Harvard’s Department of Government. He pointed out the HPR that the PT has only four mayoral candidates in the top two rankings across 22 state capitals (Brazil has a total of 26 states, but Bizzarro’s research focused primarily on 22 of them), meaning that one of the biggest parties in Brazil may end up only truly competing for four mayoral seats. On the other hand, other large parties, like the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, have at least five candidates in the top two spots.
The initial effects of the PT’s deterioration are thus already visible. Farhat predicts “the PT will now undergo a drastic reduction in its size as a consequence of the enormous accusations of corruption and the poor administration of the economy.” Bizzarro believes that the party has approximately 10,000 fewer candidates than it did in the last election cycle, a reduction of 33 percent. Many former PT politicians are fleeing the party and running for election or even reelection under different affiliations.
Forecasting the Future
It seems likely that the PT will also struggle in the 2018 presidential election. Both Farhat and Bizzarro agree that the current likely candidate for the party, Lula, has a small chance of victory. In fact, Farhat believes that the PT “will have great difficulty in the 2018 presidential elections not only because of the deterioration of the party, but also Lula’s personal attrition.” Indeed, a poll conducted last March showed Lula’s rejection rate to be 57 percent, the highest for any presidential candidate in Brazilian history.
Bizzarro believes that the disastrous situation that the PT finds itself in could potentially lead to the first presidential election since the return of Brazilian democracy in 1985 in which the PT does not nominate a candidate, given that there’s no existing viable option. If this were to happen, it would dramatically alter the country’s political landscape. The one hope is that the current administration will perform well enough over the next couple years to boost the party’s public image. President Temer, has already stated that he is not seeking reelection, but if the interim government is successful in moving the economy towards stability without taking steps to upset a majority of voters, they may be able to launch a successful candidate from Temer’s cabinet in 2018.
But whoever comes out on top, according to Bizzarro’s research, it is likely that he or she will be a member of the political establishment, despite the frustration with politics as usual that recent events have inspired. Of the top two candidates in each of 22 state capitals for the 2016 municipal elections, 42 out of 44 have had political careers in the past, with the average political career at 17 years. To be fair, perhaps it’s too soon to have expected the repercussions of Rousseff’s ousting to have manifested fully—there is still time for a younger generation of political outsiders to make a grab at power.
In the Meantime
No matter the outcome in the municipal elections this fall, President Temer’s government faces an enormous short-term challenge that will require, as Araújo puts it, “a high level of efficiency that [the new government is] ready to provide.” One of the first acts adopted by the new president, before the impeachment was even finalized, was to reduce the number of state departments in an attempt to control government spending. Araújo, in his position as Minister of Cities, said to the HPR that he plans on further enabling cities to develop their education, health, and security systems independent from the national government. Furthermore, he indicated that the government is willing to work in conjunction with the private sector towards healing the economy—something that Rousseff was hesitant to do. Other government programs such as Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life), which is targeted at increasing the basic quality of life amongst the poorest populations in the nation, will be maintained and further reformed with this new mindset so as to prevent the government from defaulting on its loans.
The PT will likely take large hits in the upcoming elections—potentially large enough to compel the party to overhaul its public image. If it is unable to do so by 2018, which seems to be the likely scenario, it will probably also face a decisive defeat in the presidential election.
But although Rousseff’s ousting has been a rough-and-tumble time for the Worker’s Party, it is a crucial step in the right direction. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, and Brazilians have long awaited concrete evidence that it deserves its namesake, “the country of the future.” Now, Brazil has a new opportunity to begin that future. As Araújo eloquently stated, “Brazil faces plenty of difficulty, but also holds plenty of potential and opportunity to improve.”
Image Source: Wikimedia/Agência Brasil