Could Brazil's Left Zig-Zag to a Comeback?
Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff, is responsible in three ways for her country's predicament. She is responsible for her erratic economic policies, characterized by lavish public spending and mismanagement of public funds, which, along with an adverse world economic climate, have contributed to Brazil's dismal performance in recent years. She is responsible, too, for her reckless oversight of the state-run Petrobras oil firm when she was Energy Minister and chair of the Petrobras board. That firm is at the center of the gravest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil. Finally, she is responsible for doctoring downward the size of the public deficit with the aim of enhancing her chances of being re-elected in 2014 - a re-election she won with only 51.2 percent of the vote.
It is on charges of statistical manipulation that the lower house of Brazil's parliament has approved an impeachment procedure against her - charges the Senate is considering. If the Senate follows through, and it apparently will, Rousseff will be suspended from office for 180 days while the trial takes place.
The political crisis has divided Brazilians and sent millions to the streets, some to request Dilma Rousseff's departure, others, less numerous, to support her. Backed by her party, the Workers' Party, and its founder and godfather, the charismatic leader of Brazil's populist left, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva - suspected, for his part, of illicit enrichment - Brazil's president has chosen so far to resist.
Rousseff tried to protect Lula by appointing him to a top governmental post, a move that would have taken his case off the desk of the pugnacious judge Sergio Moro. Lula's appointment was thwarted by a Supreme Court judge, but the damage to Rousseff's image had already been done. The move drew the disgust of large swaths of the Brazilian public against both leaders of the Workers' Party.
As a line of defense, Rousseff and Lula have chosen to present themselves as victims of an alleged conspiracy and have denounced what they call a parliamentary coup d'état.
The problem with such a line of defense is that the impeachment process launched against Rousseff, as well as the judicial enquiry into Lula, conform with the Constitution and the legislation of Brazil.
Still, the two can play the underdog. And if Rousseff is deposed, the lawmaker who would take over as president - Michel Temer, Brazil's vice president and a member of a party that broke away from the coalition government - has also been cited in connection with the Petrobras corruption scandal.
Temer's position was weakened by a recent Supreme Court decision to accept as evidence into the Petrobas probe the confession made by Delcidio Amaral, former leader of the Workers' Party in the Senate, who accused not only Rousseff and Lula, but also Temer, of involvement in the scandal.
Add to this the fact that the president of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who has played a leading role in the impeachment process, has been charged with corruption and money laundering.
Thus, if Temer and Cunha are not separated from their functions, while Rousseff is chased away, Brazil's populist left will have a convincing argument that there is a double standard. That may not enhance Rousseff's approval rating (currently at 11 percent, the lowest in the history of Brazil's democracy), but in any event the popularity of Lula, who has made clear his intention to run for president in the elections scheduled for 2018.
According to a recent poll, 60 percent of Brazilians want Rousseff to leave the presidency, whether by resignation or by removal. That doesn't mean, however, that this 60 percent will all vote against Lula in 2018.
Lula left the presidency in 2010 with an approval rating of 80 percent. That leaves him plenty of room to absorb a drop in popularity and still win in 2018. This is all the more so as those Brazilians who have not yet made up their minds about Rousseff's impeachment may feel outraged if Temer and Cunha manage to escape justice. (According to the above poll, 58 percent of Brazilians would approve of the impeachment of Temer in addition to that of Rousseff).
To punish the double standard, many Brazilians may be tempted to vote for the Workers' Party candidate, whether that is Lula or someone else.
And let's not forget that if Rousseff leaves, the transition government that would run Brazil until late 2018 - to be presided, let us recall, by Michel Temer - would have to adopt painful, unpopular measures meant to tackle Brazil's dismal economic situation.
The gravity of that situation has forced even Rousseff to restrict public spending and social programs. It is, however, a safe bet that the Workers' Party and its chief, Lula, will keep quiet on this fact and will prefer to blame the prospective transition government for the economic decisions that whoever is in power will have to adopt.
Lula and his party will also probably not point out that Brazil's public finances started to deteriorate at the end of Lula's second presidential mandate (2006-2010), when he abandoned the orthodox macroeconomic policies introduced by his predecessor, the neoliberal Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and opened the floodgates of public spending - a move that many considered was aimed at helping his heir-apparent Rousseff win the 2010 elections.
A possible way out of the present political crisis would be to advance the date of the presidential elections, a move that Rousseff reportedly may propose and that has the support of 62 percent of Brazilians.
Unsurprisingly, however, Mr. Temer has dismissed this course of action (he obviously would prefer to run the country until the 2018 elections), arguing that it would be tantamount to a coup d'état.
For all these reasons, should the double standard prevail, the likelihood is strong that the removal from power of the populist left will be short-lived and in fact reversed in the next presidential elections, whenever they take place. Not the kind of outcome that those opposed to Rousseff have in mind.