The Cheshire Cat is smiling

São Paulo 13 April: It is said that the scriptwriters of the American TV series House of Cards, with its wheeler-dealing, backroom deals, betrayals, phone taps and dirty tricks, follow closely Brazil`s unfolding political melodrama, keen to snaffle ideas. And there is no shortage of material: the fact that the victory speech of Vice-President Michel Temer was deliberately leaked days before the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff had even been voted on in the Chamber of Deputies, let alone passed, offers them another twist.

Temer leaked his planned pronouncement to the nation, promising a government of national salvation, because he is certain that the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff is going to be approved.

Michel Temer
Michel Temer

He knows because, in Dilma`s words, he is the “leader of the conspiracy”.  He, of course, denies this, but during a television interview on Wednesday night he could not stop himself beaming like the Cheshire cat.

All this week, there has been a constant stream of black cars drawing up outside the vice presidential residence, the Palácio do Jaburu, unloading politicians from different parties who are busy transferring their allegiance to the new centre of power – the Vice-President.

The Cheshire Cat
The Cheshire Cat

The government`s offensive, spearheaded by Lula, which seemed at the beginning of the week to be succeeding, is now in tatters, as party after party jumps ship and declares they will vote for impeachment.

The medium and smaller parties were being wooed by Lula with promises of jobs and even ministries, but they have apparently decided that the future lies with Michel Temer`s PMDB government, and nobody wants to be left behind.

It is very difficult to see how the government can revert this tendency before Sunday and stop the pro-impeachment lobby getting the two-thirds majority — 342 votes — that it needs to pass the motion.

Doing his bit to make sure they get them is the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Temer´s colleague in the PMDB, Eduardo Cunha, Brazil’s modern day Machiavelli. Cunha has decreed that Sunday`s vote will not be called in alphabetical order, as it was for President Fernando Collor`s impeachment in 1992, but instead,  geographically, beginning with the southern, anti-Dilma states, building up an overwhelming  pro-impeachment momentum before the pro-Dilma states of the North and Northeast cast their votes.

Political commentators believe that, once impeachment is approved in the lower house, the upper house, the Senate, will not block it. Here two votes are also needed — in the committee and in the plenary. There will be a lot of pressure to speed up the process, although the Senate president, Renan Calheiros, is a Dilma ally (or was) and might try to delay it. If it is passed at the committee stage, Dilma will have to step down while it is debated in the full house, with a vote required within 180 days. Michel Temer will take over the presidency.

In his leaked speech, Temer promised a government of national salvation and unification. He said sacrifices would be needed in order to restart economic growth. He promised small government and a liberal economic policy with a bigger role for private initiative. He signalled to the governors that their debts with the federal government would be renegotiated and said that social programmes, if possible, would be widened. In other words, he had something for everyone. But, as a famous columnist pointed out, there was not a word about corruption. Temer`s name has cropped up in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigations, but he has not been formally accused.

Wall of Impeachment Credit: BBC
Wall of Impeachment Credit: BBC

In Brasilia, meanwhile, preparations for the vote on Sunday are being made. The kilometre-long grass concourse in front of Congress, known as the Ministry Esplanade, has been divided down the middle by a temporary fence, quickly baptised the Wall of Impeachment, to keep the pro- and anti-camps separate from each other, like a Cup Final between rival teams. On one side, for example, will be people bussed in by the CNA, the confederation of rural employers’ unions; on the other members of the MST (Brazil’s Landless Movement), who will also be remembering the 20th anniversary of the Eldorado do Carajás massacre in Pará, when 19 rural workers were shot dead by police.

Chico Alencar, federal deputy from Rio for the left-wing PSOL (Socialism and Freedom Party), one of the few parties that will vote against impeachment, described the proceedings as a “festival of cynicism”.

Chico Alencar
Chico Alencar

“It’s a power struggle. What’s happening is that the country’s elite is forming a new pact, with the aim of stopping Lava Jato. It’s a rearrangement of power. The PMDB is in no way a solution – it’s part of the problem. The PMDB’s project for Brazil is to be in the government. Always. They are not a Bridge to the Future [the name of the PMDB’s programme for a future government]; they are a footbridge to the past. Congress and the parties are more like business offices for disputing chunks of the budget than associations with proposals, doctrine, a project for Brazil … Above all, we are witnessing a crisis in the political and economic model.”

Guilherme Boulos, coordinator of the MTST, the homeless movement, commented that the Dilma government was likely to fall, not because it was a threat to the interests of the ruling class, but because it wasn’t able to go far enough in carrying out their policies.

“If impeachment passes … we need to maintain popular mobilization. I don’t think general elections should be held now. Because the right is mobilized, the new Congress would be no better than the present one. That should only happen when popular sectors are mobilized.”

Boulos sees three challenges for the left in Brazil: to resist the fascist offensive – the present climate of Mccarthyism, intolerance, witch hunts; to prevent attacks on social rights; and to rebuild the left camp. He says that one cycle — of reconciliation, alliances with conservative forces — has come to an end. Now “we need new structural popular reforms, to challenge the privileges of the bourgeoisie, we need a revolution in the Brazilian political system.”

Although many people do, indeed, see elections as a solution to Brazil´s political crisis, the latest opinion polls will have given the parties food for thought. All the potential presidential candidates of the PSDB party (the main opposition party) trail behind Lula, who comes out on top with 21% of voting intentions, followed by Marina Silva, of the Rede party, with 19%.

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Veteran correspondent and regular LAB contributor Jan Rocha writes about life in São Paulo and Brazil