The impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff will become a precedent setting case in the historic and legal tradition of Brazil’s democracy. Whatever side Brazilians are on regarding president Rousseff’s six month suspension and possible permanent impeachment, a response was to the crisis was necessary. After so much popular demand for change and a severe corruption scandal facing Rousseff’s party—the Worker’s Party or PT—some action had to be taken.
As of now, it is unclear whether or not Rousseff will survive the Senate trial. The accusations against her that lead to the suspension are not directly tied to the corruption scandal plaguing the PT. President Rousseff has been accused of boosting her own economic policy record by using funds from state banks to cover budget shortfalls, which may have violated fiscal responsibility laws in Brazil. Although extremely worrisome, these practices are not linked to the corruption scandal which lead to the revelations that PT party members were taking bribes from large Brazilian companies.
Indeed, the end result of her trial may result in the reversal of her impeachment as the focus of the corruption scandal was not on her personal actions, but that of PT party members. Nevertheless, the scandals have left a indelible stain on her party’s image that will remain after the Senate trial.
There are strong precedents to it. In the British parliamentary democracy system, it is a customary tradition that a minister in charge of a department affected by a scandal should step down from his or her position, even if the minister was not aware of or linked to the scandal personally. There are two reasons for this custom: to maintain accountability of a department by the top decision makers so that the public ultimately benefits, and to ensure the legitimacy of the government and their party in the future application of policy making and governing.
President Rousseff may survive the impeachment trial as the case against her is not as solid as many of the accusations rallied against her fellow party members. But the governing party will no longer be perceived as legitimate in the eyes of the Brazilian public. Rousseff’s possible success in the Senate trial will only prolong the inevitable: a loss in the next presidential elections and the implosion of the PT.
Claims that the constitutional process leading to her impeachment is tantamount to a coup, or that horrific results will come from an opposition government, or that the interim president will perpetuate Brazil’s dysfunctional political system abound . All parties should accept that if a government is not seen as legitimate by Brazilians, an immediate election should be called in. It is what a healthy democracy should demand and a positive end result of their constitutional process.