Making Brazil’s Political Crisis Worse

By The Editorial Boardmay The New York Times 


Hours after senators voted overwhelmingly to put her on trial for alleged financial trickery, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil denounced the effort to impeach her as a coup.


“I may have committed errors, but I never committed crimes,” Ms. Rousseff said.

That is debatable, but Ms. Rousseff is right to question the motives and moral authority of the politicians who are seeking to oust her. The Brazilian president, who was re-elected in 2014 for a four-year term, has been a lousy politician and an underwhelming leader. But there is no evidence that she abused her power for personal gain, while many of the politicians orchestrating her ouster have been implicated in a huge kickback scheme and other scandals.

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled last week that Eduardo Cunha, the veteran lawmaker who has led the effort to oust Ms. Rousseff, must leave office to stand trial on corruption charges. Vice President Michel Temer, who took charge of the country on Thursday, could be ineligible to run for office for eight years because election authorities recently disciplined him for violating campaign finance limits.

Ms. Rousseff is accused of using money from national banks to paper over budget shortfalls, a tactic other Brazilian leaders have employed in the past without drawing much scrutiny. Many suspect, however, that the effort to remove Ms. Rousseff has more to do with her decision to allow prosecutors to press ahead with a corruption investigation at Petrobras, the state oil company. The scandal has tainted more than 40 politicians, including senior leaders in Ms. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.

If the Senate convicts Ms. Rousseff of financial wrongdoing — which is likely since 55 of Brazil’s 81 senators voted to put her on trial — Brazilian leaders may find it easier to revert to pay-to-play politics as usual. That would be indefensible.

Brazil is reeling from its worst recession since 1930, and now this political crisis is undermining faith in the health of its young democracy. Compounding those problems, the government is grappling with the outbreak of the Zika virus just before the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The recent corruption investigations, which have exposed a rotten governing elite, have outraged Brazilians. If Ms. Rousseff’s term is cut short, Brazilians should be allowed to elect a new leader promptly. A new election could be held soon if an electoral court, which has been investigating allegations that money from the Petrobras scandal seeped into Ms. Rousseff’s 2014 campaign, invalidates her last victory. Alternatively, Congress could pass a law calling for an early election.

While Ms. Rousseff has not managed the country effectively, the senators relishing her exit must remember that the president was elected twice. The Workers’ Party still has considerable support, particularly among the millions it pulled out of poverty over the last two decades.

Confidence in Ms. Rousseff and her party may have plunged in recent months. But Ms. Rousseff is poised to pay a disproportionately high price for administrative wrongdoing while several of her most ardent detractors stand accused of more egregious crimes. They may find that much of the ire that has been focused on her will soon be redirected at them.