Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dilma Rousseff Suspension Rundown

By a 55-22 vote in the senate, Dilma Rousseff was suspended (not impeached) and now the trial begins. That came after a weird and brief effort to annul the vote in the lower house.

Colin Snider looks at the saga in some detail and notes this:

Is that a coup? Not as we’ve often thought of coups, but it’s time to reconsider what the word means in the 21st century, and how coups can and do operate. It’s not an old-school coups of the 20th century, with sudden, violent, physical overthrow. What it is is much what it was in Paraguay in 2012, albeit in a different national context: one branch of the government – the legislative – dominated by elites who are the traditional power-brokers, bristling at the executive branch’s ability to disrupt the elites’ traditional monopolization of power by improving the lives of the marginalized and the masses. Being unable to win the presidency themselves in this new context, they have reacted by using institutional mechanisms to remove a democratically elected president.

I actually don't agree with this. If it doesn't fit the commonly accepted definition of a coup, then it's not a coup. It is something else. That something else is definitely not good for democracy, but it's not a coup.

Sean Burges and Fabricio Chagas Bastos view it in similar terms as Colin:

If you were under the impression that Dilma was impeached for corruption instead of the somewhat fuzzier idea of fiscal impropriety you stand in good company with most of the Chamber of Deputies. It was not until the 81st vote was cast last Sunday that a Deputy correctly identified the “crime” they were judging amongst their cries of “for Jesus”, “for my nephew”, “for Brazil”, and even “for Colonel Brilhante Ustra” (who tortured Dilma in 1973). Almost all of the deputies seeking Dilma’s ouster accused her of corruption with some directlylinking her to the Lava Jato investigation of malfeasance in Petrobras contracting. Aside from the handful that abstained, almost no one on either side of the aisle directly addressed the formal charge against her.

What this became is the equivalent of a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Those happen when a majority in the legislature are unhappy, and doesn't have anything to do with corruption. The problem is that it can't work in a presidential system where the president is elected by a different constituency and does not serve at the pleasure of the legislature.

Further, as Ryan Carlin, Gregory Love, and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo point out, the only reason this is happening is because the Brazilian economy is not doing well.

A decade ago, full of optimism about the country’s economic prospects, most Brazilians were willing to brush aside the accusations against Lula’s government and grant him a second term. Today, however, with Brazil’seconomic output in decline, commodity prices collapsing and inflation reaching double digits, Brazilians have shown substantially less tolerance. Instead they protested against government corruption, pressuring their representatives to impeach the president.
In a recent study examining how scandals shape presidential public approval, we find that the linkages between scandals and economic performance extend far beyond Brazil. In fact, looking at data from 84 presidential regimes across Latin America, we find that presidentialapproval ratings are very sensitive to charges of corruption, but only if the country is experiencing high inflation, high unemployment, or both.

Boz is a bit more positive:

To her credit, the president has allowed the institutional process to play out even as she has defiantly fought the charges against her. As Brian Winter writes, Rousseff did not stand in the way of the Lava Jato investigation, even at the risk to her own presidency. She isn’t AMLO, anointing herself the legitimate president in a farcical ceremony amid governing institutions that rule to the contrary. She isn’t Maduro, using dirty tricks and repression to hold on to power, even at the cost of repeatedly violating the country’s constitution. In every step up to this point, Rousseff has shown herself to be a democrat who respects the institutional and constitutional rules, even if she disagrees with how her opponents are using them to remove her from power.
Yes, this is definitely worth noting. AMLO's responses did not serve his own party or cause well. The Brian Winter article Boz links to discusses how she was steadfast in allowing the corruption probe to continue.

I covered Rousseff closely for five years as a reporter, and if there’s a more “Dilma” anecdote out there, I don’t know it. This one has it all: her blustery arrogance, her refusal to listen to even her closest aides, and her apparent inability to understand just how much trouble she was in, right to the very end. But it also has what may prove to be Rousseff’s saving grace in the annals of Brazilian history: her refusal, for the most part, to stand in the way of corruption investigations at Petrobras and elsewhere, even when it became clear they would contribute to her demise.

And indeed, people are going down for corruption in Brazil. We can only hope that the momentum continues, especially as the very corrupt new president Michel Temer takes office.

So now the trial starts, and we watch to see what Rousseff does, how the trial goes, and whether Temer's proposed austerity measures make Brazilians even more unhappy.


shah8 5:41 PM  

I disagree with your point on coups. Language is a tool, and definitions changes so as to maintain the usefulness of words. Moreover, there is an easy test. What would happen if Rouseff uses the same tendentious reasoning to delegitimate the impeachment process and refuse to vacate the premises? Well, she'd need the Army or the streets full of angry people on her side. However, if she had those things, there wouldn't have been an impeachment process, because the people pushing it couldn't credibly threaten the use of force. Tanks in the streets are an implied threat for one side or the other. Insisting that such a threat isn't police/military force is...blinkered.

I was really angry with Brian Winter's article, and frankly, I've wished that I could just burn down the my twitter timeline with Brazil in it. The core issue is that, without actual malfeasance, one is blaming the victim for her own weakness. Such weakness, however, is an agglomeration of multiple factors, including the strength and weaknesses of the leaders, and it will generally happen to many, if not most democratically elected leaders, simply out of economics, geopolitical circumstances, partisan polarization and political compromises. If a leader can be unseated just because he or she is unpopular (I mean, just what counts as unpopular enough?), without waiting for the next elections...Well, why should we have elections, then? I mean, do you (and oh lord especially Brian Winter) understand the extent that this makes democracy and voting superfluous? Moreover, given that it's mostly left-wingers who are vulnerable to putschs like these, how do you think future prospective leaders are going to react? To me, it means that when the tide comes in, it won't be pink, but unapologetically and undemocratically red. Do we actually need a Brazilian or Venezuelan Ortega or Putin? Do we actually need to validate Putin, Xi, and Morales' anti-NGOism?

shah8 5:41 PM  

Let's take a look at Macri. Macri is democratically elected, and he faces some rather stern challenges to his policy regime in terms of major strikes. In my own, personal judgement, I fully expect Macri to lose any future election, because his strategy ultimately depends on foreign investment, not just for income, but to improve productivity so as to generate more income. However, the world economy is under enormous strain, and I doubt Macri can get patient money, rather than hot cash looking for yield or assets. Let's telescope out a bit. Macri's economic policy regime is something that looks very much like ones for the Baltics, or maybe Poland, post Cold War. However, these policies don't work at all for Russia, and China policy regime diverges a great deal from policies optimal for South Korea or Taiwan. That's because Russia and China are too huge for anything that might work in Latvia or Singapore. Argentina is basically the same way. Argentina needs far, far, far, more cash than the rest of the world has to give, and can (theoretically speaking) distort commodity prices (but the US can help out a little, like allowing Argentine lemons--if the Argentines can pay for shipping up here). Large countries also tend to have more severe issues with oversight, institutions, and governance. Argentina is structured the way it is, out of many decades of arguments and conflicts, and Macri simply can't bull his way without breaking more china than Argentina can afford to pay for.

And what I've heard about Temer seems to be largly the same Atlanticist economic milieu. Privatize a bunch of companies, cut labor protections and social subsidies. And I'm like, "reforms in the middle of a depression? Does that work for any country, *ever*?" What do you think the public reaction would be like after a bit of that medicine? And if Temer/PSMB knows that the public would vote them out and put PT back in charge, do you really think that the elites won't act to prevent democratic accountability, the same accountability that we sing such honeyed(tainted) praises for Dilma?

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