Time to go

The Economist- 03/26/2016

DILMA ROUSSEFF’S difficulties have been deepening for months. The massive scandal surrounding Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant of which she was once chairman, has implicated some of the people closest to her. She presides over an economy suffering its worst recession since the 1930s, largely because of mistakes she made during her first term. Her political weakness has rendered her government almost powerless in the face of rising unemployment and falling living standards. Her approval ratings are barely in double digits and millions of Brazilians have taken to the streets to chant “Fora Dilma!”, or “Dilma out!”

And yet, until now, Brazil’s president could fairly claim that the legitimacy conferred by her re-election in 2014 was intact, and that none of the allegations made against her justified her impeachment. Like the judges and police who are pursuing some of the most senior figures in her Workers’ Party (PT), she could declare with a straight face her desire to see justice done.

Now she has cast away that raiment of credibility (seearticle). On March 16th Ms Rousseff made the extraordinary decision to appoint her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to be her chief of staff. She portrayed this as a shrewd hire. Lula, as he is known to all, is a canny political operator: he could help the president survive Congress’s attempt to impeach her and perhaps even stabilise the economy. But just days before, Lula had been briefly detained for questioning at the order of Sérgio Moro, the federal judge in charge of the Petrobras investigation (dubbed lava jato, or “car wash”), who suspects that the former president profited from the bribery scheme (see Bello). Prosecutors in the state of São Paulo have accused Lula of hiding his ownership of a beach-front condominium. He denies these charges. By acquiring the rank of a government minister, Lula would have partial immunity: only the country’s supreme court could try him. In the event, a judge on the court has suspended his appointment.

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