Brazil’s Impeachment: A Blow for Democracy?
Was the Brazilian Presidential Impeachment Good or Bad for Democracy?
There has been some excellent commentary on the recent impeachment of Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, and why it should be seen as an act that pushes Brazilian democracy backwards. These analyses focus on the legality of impeachment — did Rousseff commit an impeachable offense — and the fact that her successors are at least if not more corrupt than she is. For example, Colin M. Snider, argues that the “impeachment vote is effectively a vote of no confidence in a system that relies on four-year terms.”
While I mostly agree with Snider, presidential impeachments have a long history in democracies. Moreover, as John Polga-Hecimovich points out, impeachments “are rarely…cut-and-dried legal procedure(s),” but are instead inherently political. The Brazilian presidential system, like most democracies in Latin America, gives the executive a large share of political power with few checks and balances. The Congressional decision to impeach Rousseff may generate greater accountability on the presidency and expand the political powers of Congress, enhancing the overall representativeness of the Brazilian people.
Another interesting note that I meant to blog about several months ago is the unity of the business community in favor of impeachment. In December 2015, Brazil’s largest business lobby, Sao Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP) publicly announced its support for the impeachment of Rousseff (MercoPress). This level of unity amongst Brazil’s commercial elites is rare. In contrast, Ben Ross Schneider has repeatedly described Brazil’s business community as being divided by sectoral interests and unable to collectively respond to shared economic threats.1. It is unclear, however, if this current display of influence represents an increase in business power in Brazil or is a unique event brought about by the country’s severe economic crisis.
The net effect of the impeachment on the Brazilian economy and political system will take some time to determine. Regardless, these are interesting times for one of the world’s largest economies.
- See for example, Schneider (2004) Business Politics and the State in Twentieth-Century Latin America ↩︎