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Rousseff’s journey from grace to grass

By Kamal Tayo Oropo
15 May 2016   |   2:16 am
Brazil, one of the world’s largest democracies, has seen all sorts of scandals since Ms. Rousseff’s second swearing-in last January.


In 2011 Ms. Dilma Rousseff was elected Brazil’s first female head of government, defeating a centre-right coalition of parties by a narrow margin and earned a mandate to carry on the legacy of the centre-left Workers’ Party, which has been governing Brazil since 2003.

But Brazil, one of the world’s largest democracies, has seen all sorts of scandals since Ms. Rousseff’s second swearing-in last January. Her indiscretion in the handling of the economy is what eventually earned her impeachment last Thursday, whereas, she had been touted as a passionate economist.

By 2011, Brazil’s economy has started wobbling as the country’s commodities began losing value in the international market. This only got intensified when China began economic slowdown. A move the Asian country sustained to the detriment of the Latin Americans, consequently resulting in economic discomfort. Before then, Brazil had enjoyed an uninterrupted decade of solid growth and strong income redistribution.

But China’s slower pace became the new norm, and all the measures taken by Brazil’s government soon became unsustainable.

Despite that, Rousseff won the 2014 election by promising to set in motion expensive stimulus measures to keep the nation’s finances growing until the global outlook recovered. She scuffed at critics who said an adjustment, such as higher taxes and budget cuts, would be a better option.

But once re-elected, Rousseff was said to have unilaterally went for an aggressive fiscal adjustment, alienating the opposition and leaving her own supporters feeling betrayed.

In 2014, a federal court, analyzing federal accounts, declared one of Rousseff’s decisions illegal. Brazilian governments are required to meet budget surplus targets set in Congress. But Rousseff was accused of allowing creative accounting techniques, involving loans from public banks to the treasury, which artificially enhanced the budget surplus; this gave the appearance that government accounts were in better shape than they actually were. The surplus is one of the measures taken into account by investors of how sound an economy is. Rousseff, however, denied any wrongdoing in the budgetary affair.

According to her, many other presidents, mayors and state governors always used the same creative accounting techniques and were never punished.

She insisted on Thursday that this is merely being used as a legal excuse and that her impeachment is nothing but an attempted coup.

Brazil’s Lower House voted 367 in favour of impeachment, 137 voted against the move. The Upper House voted to suspend her by 55 votes to 22, after an all-night session that lasted more than 20 hours.

After making cuts to unemployment benefits and ministerial budgets, the economy started contracting at such a fast pace that government revenues decreased sharply.

Rousseff’s Finance minister Joaquim Levy, who was supposed to carry out her reforms, left his job in December and the government virtually abandoned its surplus targets.

Last year was particularly traumatic for the country poised to host the Olympic in august 2016. By January 2016, Brazil had shed about 1.5m formal jobs. It had had its worst yearly GDP contraction since 1990. The country had double-digit inflation, much above the established target, and its debt had been downgraded to junk status by major credit ratings agencies. The country is suffering from its worst recession in 10 years, unemployment reached nine percent in 2015 and inflation is at a 12-year high.

Mr. Michel Temer, 75-year-old professor of law and of Lebanese origin, became interim president as soon as Rousseff was suspended. Temer was Rousseff’s vice-president and was a key figure in the recent upheaval.

Until now, he was believed to be a kingmaker and a prime mover of many of Brazil’s coalitions. Incidentally, his party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), where he was president, pulled out of Rousseff’s government in March.

In his first assignment, Michel Temer nominated a 21 all-male cabinet.

To what extent this is in tandem with one of Rousseff’s allegation that sexism in the male-dominated Congress had played a key part in her impeachment process, is yet unclear.

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