Brazilian Protesters Demand Rousseff’s Impeachment—But What Next?

Anti-government protesters once again took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday, this time in smaller numbers, but with the same demands for President Dilma Rousseff to leave office.

Thousands gather on Copacabana Beach to protest against President Dilma Rousseff's government (Photo by Flora Charner). 

Thousands gather on Copacabana Beach to protest against President Dilma Rousseff's government (Photo by Flora Charner). 

This is the second march in less than a month in which Brazilians have spoken out against Rousseff and the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). At least 500,000 people gathered in 24 cities throughout the country, chanting slogans like “Out with Dilma” and “Impeachment Now.”

On March 15, nearly two million people participated in one of the largest protests in Brazil’s recent history. Discontent over unpopular austerity measures and a kickback scandal involving state-run oil giant Petrobras and the PT were major catalysts.

“The Workers Party failed Brazil,” Cristiano Jacobs, a Rio de Janeiro businessman, said during the march. “They have left Brazil broke.”

Rousseff is facing historically low approval ratings. In a recent Datafolha poll, 60 percent of Brazilians said they believe she is doing a "bad" or “terrible” job. 2,834 people were interviewed April 9 and 10, with a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points. The same poll showed that 63 percent of those interviewed support opening the impeachment process against Rousseff.

Only one president has been impeached in Brazil’s democratic history. Fernando Collor de Mello resigned in 1992 after an investigation against his presidency was launched. He was forced to abandon political office for eight years.

The only official reaction to the protests from Rousseff’s government came from Vice President Michel Temer, who said that the demonstrations are a sign of a “powerful democracy” that exists in Brazil.

“Just because there a less people in the streets today doesn’t mean the warning that is being given by the population is less important,” Temer told local media outlets this weekend, as he attended a funeral in Porto Alegre. “It’s fundamental for the government to understand that there needs to be a dialogue.”

If Rousseff is impeached, Temer would assume the presidency. The April Datafolha poll revealed that most of the people interviewed didn’t know that thePartido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement—PMDB) leader would be her successor. 

If Temer and Rousseff are both forced out, the presidency would go to Eduardo Cunha, the recently-elected head of the lower house who is also from the PMDB. Cunha is affiliated with the conservative right and Evangelical church in Brazil and is opposed to progressive social issues like gay marriage and decriminalization of abortion and marijuana.

LGBT activists and other civil rights groups have criticized Cunha, who was received with protests in the cities of Natal and Joao Pessoa during a recent tour to local legislative assemblies.

In addition to his stance on social issues, he’s also one of fifty politicians being investigated by the Brazilian Federal Police in the Lava Jato (Car Wash), the mega-operation that is looking into the Petrobras corruption and money laundering scheme. The Senate leader, Renan Calheiros, is also under investigation.

“The problem is not only Dilma,” said Clara Silva, a Rio artist, during the anti-government march. “We need a major political clean up. We need to get rid of the House, the Senate, all of them. They are all corrupt.”


A version of the story was published by Americas Quarterly on April 13th, 2015.