ON Sunday (Monday here in Manila), the Brazilian Congress voted to impeach the country’s embattled President Dilma Rousseff. It took a marathon, five-hour debate for the lower house to arrive at its decision, but in the end it was a rather emphatic one; needing only 342 votes (of a total of 513) to advance the impeachment to the Senate, Rousseff’s opponents mustered 367.
The articles of impeachment will now be passed to Brazil’s upper house, which will vote on whether or not Rousseff should stand trial. If the Senate sends Rousseff to trial, she will be required to step down for up to 180 days while her case is being decided; if she is convicted, of course, she will be removed from office permanently, and could stand trial on criminal charges.
The consensus among political analysts is that Rousseff’s goose is cooked. The strength of her support in Congress made the first hurdle the highest for the impeachment cause. Most now expect the opposition-dominated Senate to make short work of her.
What the next would-be tenant of Malacañang should have paid attention to in the historic proceedings on Monday is the real reason for Rousseff’s impeachment. It isn’t hard to figure out, because it’s all the opposition talked about in the dramatic legislative session. Rousseff is essentially charged with fraud; she is accused of allowing private loans to the government treasury to artificially inflate the budget surplus before her reelection in 2014. But not one of the dozens of opposition lawmakers who rose to speak referred to the formal charges at all; instead, they condemned her for the poor state of the Brazilian economy, part of the damage of which was caused by the massive Petrobras corruption scandal that took place under Rousseff’s watch, though she has not been charged in that case.
From growing at about 2.2 percent per year during Rousseff’s first term, last year the economy fell into deep recession, shrinking by 3.8 percent; it is expected to do the same again this year. In 2014, the budget deficit doubled to 6.75 percent of GDP; a year later, it was nearly 11 percent. Over the past two years, unemployment in major urban areas has risen from below five percent to more than eight percent, and is predicted to reach as high as 10 percent. In the same time period, inflation has nearly doubled as well, from just above five percent to almost 10 percent. Consumer spending also declined in 2015, for the first time in 12 years.
Our last six years has been enough of a lesson that businesses and people will tolerate many intolerable things from their leaders, even bad performance in government agencies and deteriorating public services, provided the economy is favorable and they have money to spend. If the economy is unfavorable, the leader becomes the next Dilma Rousseff; or worse, the country becomes the next Libya, or Syria, or Yemen.
We appreciate the rhetoric about stopping corruption and fighting crime, but those are objectives we rightfully expect any candidate to pursue, and are not by themselves reasons to vote for anyone. The economy is far more important, and should be at the top of every candidate’s agenda. If they’re not convinced, they don’t have to take our word for it; just ask Dilma Rousseff.