Friday, 18 March 2016

BRAZIL: The Political Crisis...

Brazil is teetering on the brink of a constitutional crisis, after a judge blocked President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to her cabinet, prompting clashes in Congress and on the streets.

It is not clear whether Mr Lula will be able to claim his seat in Mr Rousseff's cabinet. After Thursday's ceremony-which ended with the current and former presidents raising their clasped hands together in triumph while supporters chanted ''There will not be a coup''-another federal judge ordered Mr Lula's appointments to be suspended.

The judge, Itagiba Catta Preta Neto, was responding to a petition filed by a Brazilian lawyer challenging the legality of the appointment, an action allowed under Brazilian law. the administration has appealed the order to the Supreme Court. The opposition hailed the decision as a triumph for Brazilian democracy, while the government vowed to appeal, lambasting the order as part of a 'coup''by the country's elite, reminiscent of Brazil's period of military rule.

The legal challenge reflected the view of many Brazilians who see Ms Rousseff's move as a desperate bid to shield Mr Lula from charges, under a provision that prevents sitting federal politicians from trial except by the Supreme Court..Ms Rousseff's opponents also denounced Mr Lula's appointment as akin to giving him the unofficial status of a prime minister and claimed the maneuver was equivalent to a coup--an accusation Ms Rousseff hurled back at her adversaries.

Overnight, another judge, Sérgio Moro, who oversees the broad corruption case dubbed ''Operation Car Wash'', had released recording from a wire-tapes of Mr Lula discussing his rapid appointment with the president, fueling critics' view that the move was aimed at mutual self-preservation. But some legal experts questioned the justification for his move--he said the public needed to know what was in the tapes--and the president complained of ''selective leaks'' intended to implicate her and Mr Lula.

Mr Moro has been aggressively overseeing the bid-rigging and bribery scandal probe centered on state oil company Petréole Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobas. Mr Lula and many other politicians and business have been swept up in the investigation. In recent months Mr Moro has become a national idol to his growing number of admirers, his profile splashed across magazine covers and emblazoned on street protesters' T-shirts.

Detractors say the 43 year old judge is overstepping his judicial authority. Mr Lula's lawyers criticized Mr Moro's conduct as ''serious attack on the democratic rule of law''. While Mr Moro has basked in rock-star-style adulation, Mr Lula has in recent months been reviled in newspaper editorial pages and lampooned by protesters. A giant balloon of the former president in prison stripes has become a popular prop at anti-government demonstrations like those that have broken out in several Brazilian cities since Wednesday.

Ms Rousseff was linked to the scandal for the first time week in testimony by a senator of her party in plea-bargain agreement, has infuriated critics inside and outside government with her appointment of Mr Lula. The opposition accused the President, Dilma Rousseff, to have fiddled with government accounts in 2014 to mask budget holes during her re-election campaign; breaking the law by taking unauthorized loans from state banks to cover government spending and also continuing this practice in 2015 at the start of her second term.

For the former president, Lula da Silva, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is charged with accepting a luxury apartment and a country home as bribes from executives implicated in a $2 billion dollar corruption scam at state oil company Petrobas. He denies involvement in the scandal.

Brazil's lower house of congress on Thursday launched a 65- member special committee to draw up a motion on whether impeachment proceedings should be launched against Rousseff. Lula meanwhile is in limbo after prosecutors called him to be arrested on corruption charges.

The congressional commission has two weeks to vote on whether to continue impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Its recommendation would then go to the full house where two-thirds of deputies-342 out 513-are required for impeachment to be upheld. At this point Rousseff would be suspended and matter would go to the Senate. The upper house, overseen by the presidents of the Supreme Court, would then vote, with a two thirds majority--54 of 81--needed to force Rousseff from office.

On paper, Rousseff's ruling coalition, with 314 deputies, would easily defeat impeachment. But congress is split over her performance. On Saturday, her major coalition partner, the centrist PMDB party, said it would decide within a month whether to leave the coalition. Vice President Michel Temer, leader of PMDB, did not attend the swearing-in of Lula and a PMDB convention on Saturday banned its members from taking new posts in Rousseff's government.

Recent opinion polls indicate that 60% of Brazilians back Rousseff's impeachment. Rousseff's approval rating is only 10%. However the legal issues of the prospect of impeachment are not clear. The allegations of the crime that the opposition accuses the president are not legally the type of the crime that can be personally pinned on the president in order to force impeachment or resignation. But also in Brazilian presidential system, impeachment is not to be turned into a veto of no-confidence, which could be potentially dangerous precedent.

Thursday's events plunged Rousseff's government into deeper uncertainty as she struggles with public anger, economic chaos and the splintering of her coalition in Congress. Lula and Rousseff have between them governed Brazil for the past 13 years. He presided over a boom, but political and economic crises are gripping Latin America's biggest economy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: Reuters=