Dilma Rousseff ousted in impeachment vote won’t cure all country’s ills

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is both the story of a woman and a country. The woman who bravely fought dictatorship in her youth, rose to become president, has now been ushered from power in the middle of a corruption scandal. And the story of a nation, once applauded for its growing influence and fight against poverty, now struggling with political tensions that have up-ended the 13-year rule of its Workers’ party brought to power by Ms Rousseff’s charismatic predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It is also a demonstration of today’s shifting global landscape, in which powers that just years ago were celebrated as “emerging” and likely to reshape the world find themselves confronted by difficulties rooted in economic downturns and flawed governance.

As soon as Brazil’s Senate screen displayed 61 to 20 votes for her removal, Brazilians celebrated like they during the Olympics, loudly. Her ousting had marks of a personal tragedy. There were tears and violent protests from supporters, as Ms Rousseff put up a fight against what she and her supporters have consistently called a “coup”. On the other side, her critics had plenty of fireworks, cheers of celebration in the streets and described the process as the logical outcome of a long, constitutional process aimed at clearing the graft and unaccountability that have too long dominated Brazilian politics. Emotions were high also as Ms Rousseff drew parallels of this process with the way she had endured torture under Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Senado

Brazilian Senate

Although the process followed all legal steps, it is hard to overlook a degree of unfairness in this downfall. Ms Rousseff was on trial for window-dressing state budget figures, she never stood accused of personally benefiting from corruption, unlike dozens of Brazilian officials and politicians – many of whom are Senators that voted for her removal. Brazil’s crisis in some ways resembles those of other “developing” countries. Like the anti-corruption campaigns waged by the autocratic Chinese leader. None of this can be a consolation for Ms Rousseff, nor will it erase the mistakes she made. But you can’t put all of Brazil’s problems to one woman, or think they will disappear with the impeachment or one election.

This has been a downwards slide for Brazil. In 2010, when Ms Rousseff was first elected, Brazil was the seventh-largest economy in the world and widely recognized as a power on the rise. It was set to display its accomplishments as host of the World Cup and Olympic Games. Its successes in reducing inequalities made it a model for the world. But the collapse of commodity prices stopped a decade-long export boom triggered protests in 2013. The country experienced social tensions, mass street demonstrations and popular discontent, including among the new emerging middle classes. The opposition to her Workers’ party tried to capitalize on these frustrations. But Brazil’s rightwing forces attempts to look “cleaner” than the government failed when financial dealings and nearly billion dollars political kickback schemes were uncovered.
Many of those happy to see Ms Rousseff thrown from office are corrupt politicians who hope that, as a result, they will be spared the attention of anti-corruption judges. At this moment Brazil is a highly polarized nation and its citizens are deeply divided. But they want a political class that can restore the public confidence needed to address the country’s many challenges. Whether the new president Michel Temer – who had led the attacks against Ms Rousseff – can deliver on those expectations is a tricky question.
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