back to

The "chronic dysfunction" of Brazilian politics


At the New Yorker website, Alex Cuadros reports on the dramatic political situation in Brazil. Last week, the country’s senate voted to begin impeachment proceeding’s against President Dilma Rousseff, whose term in office has been plagued by a faltering economy and corruption investigations that target not only her, but seemingly the entire Brazilian political class. Cuadros writes that while “most Brazilians had wanted to see Rousseff go,” her likely successor may undo years of progress to narrow the country’s vast income gap.

For more than a decade, Brazil, a deeply unequal society, has been governed by leaders who claim to speak for the poor. Temer represents a break from that approach. At seventy-five, he has sunken cheeks, wears his gray hair slicked back, and speaks a stilted Portuguese associated with the old, urban upper class. A political rival once compared him to a “butler from a horror movie.” On Thursday afternoon, when he made his first televised Presidential address, he promised to deliver “national salvation” and announced a plan to put up millions of billboards around the country that read “Don’t speak of crisis; work!” His voice caught twice during his remarks. When he paused to take a sip from a glass of water, his lips curled into an awkward smile.

Widespread anger over corruption helped to bring about Rousseff’s downfall. But, in getting rid of her, the Congress has swapped one President tainted by scandal for another. Temer leads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, which, like the Workers’ Party, has been implicated in the petrolão (or “big oil”) scandal that saw billions of dollars funnelled from the state oil company to off-the-books campaign coffers and Swiss bank accounts. And while Rousseff is not suspected of direct involvement in the scheme, Temer is—as are several of his newly appointed cabinet ministers.

Many Brazilians wanted Rousseff out, but they weren’t calling for Temer. Surveys show that just two per cent of Brazilians would vote for him for President, and that sixty per cent want to see him impeached, too. So far, though, few outside Rousseff’s base on the left have made any public show of disapproval. Some Brazilians are tempted to blame the country’s age-old corruption problems on the Workers’ Party alone, and many others, after a period of bitter political polarization, are simply tired, and have given up on politics altogether. A few small but vocal groups have even called for the military to take over and rule, as it did from 1964 to 1985.

Image: Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff. Via the New Yorker.