10 May 2016

Dilma Rousseff condemned, then saved, then condemned again


Remember three weeks ago when the Brazilian lower house of Congress voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff? It looked pretty certain that Dilma was done for, paving the way for the Senate to complete the impeachment process this Wednesday. The Vice President, Michel Temer, was waiting eagerly in the wings to take over as soon as President Rousseff stepped down.

Not so fast.

Last week, the Speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, was suspended over charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. In particular, he is implicated in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation of the state-owned oil company Petrobras, and accused of taking $1.4 million in bribes. Cunha has had it in for Rousseff for years, and was the one to instigate the impeachment proceedings against her. His blatant hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by Brazilian voters – he is one of the most unpopular officials in Brazil.

The new Speaker is Waldir Maranhão, who incidentally is also implicated in the Lava Jato scandal and under investigation. Yesterday, Maranhão shocked lawmakers and citizens alike when he announced he was annulling the earlier vote in the lower house, on the grounds of “procedural irregularities”. The FT reported:

“Mr Maranhão argued that the vote on April 17, which lasted several days, had contained important procedural violations.

Congressmen had “prejudged” the outcome by declaring their vote ahead of the result and parties had directed members on how to vote instead of allowing them to make a decision according to their convictions.

In spite of his objection to prejudging the outcome, Mr Maranhão’s Twitter account shows he publicly declared he would vote against the impeachment motion on April 15, two days before the voting session on April 17.”

Here’s the tweet:

Translation: Friends , it’s time to unite in favour of Brazil. On behalf of DEMOCRACY , say NO to the impeachment of the President.

In short, Maranhão appeared to be annulling a vote for a violation of rules which he himself breached.

Supporters of Dilma Rousseff, however, did not have much time to celebrate. Maranhão changed his mind overnight, releasing a statement today revoking the annulment. He did not give a reason for this sudden reversal. The vote in the Senate is back on for tomorrow, and Rousseff’s days once again seem numbered – to one.

But this is Brazil, where 150 members of the lower house of Congress are implicated in crimes or under investigation, and where the most likely victor if fresh elections are called is the former President Lula, back from the (metaphorical) dead. Anything could happen.

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.