While addressing official guests at the Presidential Palace on March 30, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff compared her impeachment proceedings to a “coup,” accusing her opposition of ignoring the “guaranteed rights of the people” by resorting to unconstitutional means to unseat her from power. The claim, which has been supported by ex-President Lula da Silva and fiercely refuted by opposition leaders, reflects the deep divide that exists in the country regarding the legal process of the corruption scandal.
Opposition leaders cite Rousseff’s alleged mismanagement of government funds as justification for her impeachment, but President Rousseff and her supporters deny that this action qualifies as a “crime of responsibility,” which, according to the 1988 constitution, is the only reason that justifies impeachment of a sitting president by the Senate.
The rhetorical escalation comes at a particularly weak moment for Rousseff’s government. On March 29 the PMDB (the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) ended a thirteen-year alliance with the Worker’s Party and left Rousseff’s government. This move leaves the president without seven members of her cabinet and the support of Brazil’s largest party. Her vice president, Michel Temer, is also a member of the PMDB, and many claim the party’s move is an attempt to clear Temer’s way to power.
After the split, opposition leaders reaffirmed their confidence in both the success and the legality of impeachment proceedings and suggested that Rousseff will be out of power within a month. Aécio Neves, head of the main opposition party and former electoral opponent to Rousseff, went so far as to declare that “the Dilma government is over.”
The issue of the case’s legality follows other controversial decisions by the country’s courts, including the public release of private phone calls between President Rousseff and Mr. da Silva by a federal judge, as well as the Supreme Court’s blockage of Mr. da Silva’s appointment as Chief of Staff. Brazil’s judicial system is known for its independence from political influence, but as recent events continue to develop, this reputation may be challenged.