Brazil has had four elected presidents since democracy was restored in 1985. Two served out their terms. On Wednesday, Dilma Rousseff was the second to be ousted while in office amid political upheaval and allegations of wrongdoing.
Senators voted overwhelmingly to impeach Ms. Rousseff for using state bank funds to shore up the government’s budget before her 2014 re-election, which they called a crime; some of her predecessors used similar budget tricks. Ms. Rousseff’s departure marks the end of a transformative 13-year rule by the leftist Workers’ Party, which used state revenues generated by a commodities boom to lift millions out of poverty but lost support as the economy went into recession in recent years.
Ms. Rousseff decried the process as a coup by political opponents who saw her as a threat because she had not stopped a corruption inquiry that ensnared dozens of members of the country’s ruling class. She compared the case against her to the period of military rule when she was one of hundreds of people detained and tortured.
“Today, the Senate made a decision that will go down as one of the great injustices in history,” she said in a defiant speech after lawmakers voted 61 to 20 to impeach her. “Sixty-one senators subverted the will expressed through 54.5 million votes.”
Ms. Rousseff vowed to fight what she described as an attempt by a coalition of right-wing male politicians, themselves tainted by corruption allegations, to hijack the political process. “The progressive, inclusive and democratic national project that I represent is being halted by a powerful conservative and reactionary force,” she said.
It will be a shame if history proves her right. But Ms. Rousseff’s legacy, and the events that led to her downfall, are more complex than she acknowledges. She became deeply unpopular when recession hit and she failed to create the coalition needed to govern effectively. When corruption investigators zoomed in on her predecessor as president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, she abused her authority by giving him a cabinet post, to shield him from prosecution.
There are concrete steps the government can take to start restoring Brazilians’ faith in their scandal-plagued political elite. Michel Temer, who became interim president in May when Ms. Rousseff was suspended, should allow the corruption investigations to continue and reject legislative initiatives meant to defang prosecutors.
Since he took office, Brazil’s economy has improved modestly as markets have reacted positively to his economic plans, which include privatizing state-owned companies and overhauling the country’s bloated pension system. While balancing the budget will require painful cuts, Mr. Temer should be judicious in scaling back the social programs that made the Workers’ Party popular. Until Brazilians can elect a new president in 2018, he could honor the country’s democratic process by remaining reasonably deferential toward the platform they last endorsed.
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