Millions have taken to the streets to protest, calling for the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff, of Brazil’s socialist Workers’ Party.
Her likely successor, Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer, is not significantly more popular, despite being a member of the rival Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). An April poll shows more than half of Brazilians want Temer impeached, too. Nor does it end with those serving with Rousseff. The same poll found that 94 percent of Brazilians wanted to see Eduardo Cunha, the head of the House of Representatives and leader of the push to have Rousseff removed, taken out of power. They got their wish; Cunha has been removed from the Speakership for his involvement in the billion-dollar Petrobras corruption scheme. He is personally accused of taking over $5 million in bribes.
In a climate so righteously hostile against its corrupt leadership, few political figures have kept their profile respectable. Some have done so with the luxury of not being a politician at all. Judge Sergio Moro of the nation’s federal court, who has headed the investigation into Petrobras, is one of the few to emerge from the current political turmoil a popular hero. The subject of signs praising him at protests and even favorable caricatures of him, Moro has landed on Time’s 100 Most Influential list after releasing wiretapped audio that directly implicated Rousseff in covering up for Petrobras criminals (specifically, her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva).
Brazilians chanted his name in the streets along with chants calling for Rousseff to step down. His role in the investigation is set to wane, however, as legal immunity protects those accused of corruption holding high-ranking public offices. Protests have also slowed in frequency, largely because the impeachment process is already underway, the demand protesters were waiting to have indulged.
Among elected politicians, none has received the outpouring of support seen by Moro. But some of the nation’s most prominent anti-Rousseff legislators have seen interest in their work rise thanks to the impeachment process. Among those is Francisco Silva, a legislator known popularly by his clown name, “Tiririca.” Tiririca was elected to Congress with only clown experience on his resume, using the slogan “It Can’t Get Any Worse.” In 2015, he was the only legislator to complete a term in office with perfect attendance.
His vote for impeachment was the most widely commented about on the Internet, with some clamoring to see him run for president (with varying states of seriousness). Observers noted in particular his seriousness upon voting, even dismissing jokes about his background from other legislators before casting his “yes” vote.
Workers’ Party officials appeared stunned by his “yes” decision, with Lula da Silva even claiming he had met with Tiririca the day before and believed he had secured his “no” vote. Tiririca, however, represents the center-right Republican Party.
While Cunha and Temer are growing increasingly unpopular, some center-right politicians have kept their reputations intact. The last representative to cast a “yes” vote, securing the impeachment process, was a member of the center-right Brazilian Social Democrat Party (PSDB): Bruno Araujo, the House Minority Leader. Araujo, a fleeting international presence thanks to a segment praising him on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, has long been a supporter of the investigations against politicians for Petrobras-related corruption, even when those investigations damaged the reputations of party colleagues.
Araujo is not being eyed as a presidential contender, but talked about openly as an almost-certain pick for Temer’s cabinet, which he may have to form as early as next week. On Monday, O Globo reported that Araujo’s name is being floated for the Minister of Cities position; he had previously told The Fiscal Times that his party has felt pressure to join a Temer government as it has so aggressively pushed for Rousseff’s removal. Along with the news, follows reports that PMDB members are dismayed by the choice of a member of another party to the cabinet.
Despite being among the loudest voices calling for an investigation into those implicated in the Petrobras case, Araujo has not escaped scrutiny. As the pro-Rousseff publication The Intercept notes, he has been “implicated by a document” in the case. The connection: Araujo’s predecessor, PSDB former majority leader Sergio Guerra, had done business with some corporations believed to have given bribes to Petrobras officials for access to contracts. Araujo took over those business ties when Guerra died in March 2014.
The New York Times highlights another right-wing politician who is growing ever-popular among Brazilians: Jair Bolsonaro, who has already expressed his desire to run for president in 2018, making him a “pre-candidate” in Brazil. His Social Christian Party (PSC) runs to the right of Araujo’s PSDB, as do Bolsonaro’s views.
The Times compares Bolsonaro to Donald Trump; all American left-leaning media compare international politicians they don’t like to Donald Trump (see: Rodrigo Duterte). Bolsonaro already polls six points ahead of Temer in a head-to-head match up, the Times notes. They add with horror that Bolsonaro was the legislator who praised a former military leader during his impeachment vote, triggering a spitting match (literally) between leftist legislator Jean Wyllys and his son, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro.
Where all these characters will land depends heavily on how far the impeachment process can go. Acting Speaker of the House Waldir Maranhao, who has replaced Cunha, annulled the House decision to send the impeachment vote to the Senate on Monday. The head of the Senate Impeachment Committee, Raimundo Lira, reacted to this move by telling the press that Maranhao had made a “political decision” that does not matter, as impeachment is now in the hands of the Senate. His committee has already voted in favor. Courts will likely intervene to determine who is right. Rousseff has issued a statement urging the nation’s socialists to remain “calm.”