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Dilma Rousseff: Lessons from Brazil

By Editorial Board
08 May 2016   |   3:34 am
The on-going political development in Brazil in which the lower house of the country’s bi-cameral legislature has voted in favour of impeachment of the country’s President ...
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff . / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff . / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA

The on-going political development in Brazil in which the lower house of the country’s bi-cameral legislature has voted in favour of impeachment of the country’s President, Dilma Rousseff, is at once a sad saga but a savoury tribute to democracy.

Brazil, one of the founders of the club of emerging markets famously known by the acronym, BRICS, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has been until late, a successful Latin American country and a beacon of hope to countries like Nigeria. It’s implosion therefore is one that could dampen the move for advancement in countries with similar potentials. Even so, if democracy would thrive, accountability must be the watchword of every public office holder from the highest level to the lowest. To that extent, it is alright to hold Rousseff to account.

The planned ouster of Ms. Rousseff is being predicated on charges that she illegally used money from state-owned banks to hide a catastrophic budget deficit, which then bolstered her chances of re-election.

While the veracity of those charges is still being contested by Rousseff even as the upper chamber is yet to vote on her impeachment, what is discernible is the sobering reality that the political and economic turmoil that has consumed that country, Latin America’s largest, would not be over soon with the people paying a heavy price. And the signs are all over: Inflation is running at 10 per cent, unemployment is at a seven-year high and the economy is expected to contract by as much as 3.8 percent for a second year in a row. A Zika epidemic is coursing through the northeast, and a cash-strapped government in Rio de Janeiro has been racing to prepare for the Summer Olympics. If the impeachment process moves forward as many experts have predicted, Brazilian television this August is likely to feature a split-screen spectacle of sporting events and their president on trial.

Ms. Rousseff will have to step down temporarily this month if the Senate votes by a simple majority to take on her impeachment trial. If the Senate votes by a simple majority to go ahead with the impeachment, the 68-year old Rousseff would not only be suspended, she will be replaced by vice president Michel Temer as acting president pending a trial. If she is found guilty, Temer will serve out Rousseff’s term till 2018.

Rousseff, whose résumé includes a stint as a Marxist guerrilla, has vowed to fight on. For Brazil, like Nigeria, is a peculiar place. The man who is expected to replace her, Vice President Michel Temer, is not exactly a knight in shining armour. Temer, 75, a career politician whose Brazilian Democratic Movement Party has been ensnared in the nation’s ever-expanding corruption scandal, is almost as unpopular as Rousseff.

Indeed, Brazil’s political landscape is now almost a minefield of scandal. A report says a third of the deputies in the lower house have been charged or are being investigated for corruption, including its speaker, Eduardo Cunha, the man who orchestrated Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment. Mr. Cunha, who faces charges that he accepted $40 million in bribes, is especially disliked, with nearly 90 percent of Brazilians calling for him to step down.

In the same vein, President of the Senate, Renan Calheiros has his own challenges. He is being investigated on accusations of receiving bribes, evading taxes and allowing a lobbyist to pay child support for his daughter from an extramarital affair.

Certainly, politicians in Brazil have placed partisan politics and personal interests above governance in a country, which received positive global attention under the last administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Under Lula, who has also been named in corruption charges involving deals in the country’s oil firm, Petrobas, 70 million people were lifted out of poverty. Brazil, unlike some struggling developing countries, has also recorded self-sufficiency in agriculture and high-end manufacturing, including production of automobiles and even airplane engines. Today, more than half of the population could access modern mass transit system including modern railways. All of that is being destroyed now with the political crisis.

As the Brazilian political saga unfolds, there are some lessons to be learnt. In the first place, political leaders should not under any guise undermine the public interest or public good in a bid to influence outcome of elections as Rousseff allegedly did. Political power belongs to the people and only a mandate freely given by them is legitimate. However, when the conduct of a public officer has damaged the authority of the office, the sanctity of that office should be preserved: A true leader should quit honourably. Rousseff may not yet have been found guilty. But she should lead by example and show herself a statesman.

Today’s political leaders should learn from United States former President Richard Nixon who had to quit as the 37th President once his conduct was adjudged to have tainted the integrity of his office, without waiting for impeachment process.

Brazil’s leadership, in both arms of legislature and executive, appears too tainted. And in the spirit of leadership purity which these times demand, Rousseff should take the Nixon road in the interest of Brazil even if her traducers are not better than her. That way, she would have set the moral tone for the Brazilian people to demand better conduct or higher standards from others.

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