Dilma Shown the Door

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff is out of a job:

The Brazilian Senate on Wednesday voted 61-20 to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for breaking fiscal laws, bringing to an end the historic tenure of the South American nation’s first female president who brought a greater spirit of empowerment to women in the country.

Instead, Rousseff’s vice president, Michel Temer, who has been pilloried for a Cabinet that is almost entirely composed of white men, will finish out her term.

The impeachment comes after a yearlong high-pitched political battle that paralyzed Latin America’s most powerful nation, helped bring down its economy and exposed deep rifts among its people on everything from race relations to social spending.

This is as much a vote of no confidence in her leadership as a conviction for crimes: many of the Senators who voted for her removal have been guilty of worse. What Rouseff really is guilty of is lying to the country about the state of the economy, packing some very destructive short term spending programs into the budget in order to gain votes, and then having no clue what to do when the roof fell in.

An instinctive response of Americans to situations like this is to bemoan the weakness of institutions—and indeed there were some among Dilma’s opponents who thought that absent a stronger criminal case against her, it was better to let her serve out the her term.

But while Brazil’s constitution resembles the U.S. one, in that there is a formal separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, there is a cultural, normative sense to European states that are used to a parliamentary system: when a Prime Minister loses the confidence of the majority in the legislature, the government falls.

Perhaps the more serious political issue in Brazil is the potential indictment of former president Lula on criminal charges—as of Friday, police were recommending he be charged with graft. Lula is the charismatic figure who built the modern PT and brought it to power; Dilma was his protege but was never as powerful in the party as Lula. If Lula is convicted of serious criminal misconduct and sentenced to jail, the resulting upheaval in Brazilian politics is likely to be greater than anything that comes from Dilma’s impeachment.

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