Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may be learning that fighting crime doesn’t come easy. Her efforts to root out political corruption have caused a string of cabinet shakeups. This week brought more woes, with Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi becoming the third of Rousseff’s ministers to step down amid corruption allegations and the fourth to leave his post since Rousseff took office just over seven months ago. Despite her attempts to cut unnecessary spending and select senior officials based on merit rather than political connections, she has seen public approval fall six points since March to 67 percent. That figure would undoubtedly make many heads of state around the world jealous, but disapproval also doubled to 25 percent while the approval rating for her government slipped from 56 to 48 percent. Moreover, Rousseff’s corruption crackdown is sparking a rebellion in the coalition that includes her Worker’s Party (PT), which could lead to legislative roadblocks. As The Economist put it: “Brazil’s president may find that the price of trying to clean up politics involves forgoing reforms the country needs.”
The ministerial resignations started in June, when her Chief-of-Staff Antonio Palocci stepped down over allegations of ethics violations. Given that Dilma brought him into her cabinet to help promote unity among the more-than-a-dozen parties in her coalition, his departure left a hole. In July, Transportation Minister Alfred Nascimento resigned over his ministry’s connection to a kickback scheme that saw Rousseff dismiss other senior officials. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim was the next to go after insulting other members of Rousseff’s cabinet; he called one a “weakling” and referred to others as “idiots.” Rossi’s resignation may not be the last, either. Last week, authorities arrested 35 Ministry of Tourism officials, including the second-in-command, for an embezzlement scandal. Rumors swirl that the minister himself will be next.
Such crackdowns could further disrupt Rousseff’s coalition. Rossi is a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB)—the PT’s main coalition partner. Mendes Ribeiro, also a member of the PMDB, will replace him. Still, Rousseff faces coalition tensions spurred by her administration’s decisions to adopt $30 billion in budget cuts, some of which amounts to pork-barrel spending. Her austerity measures led the PMDB and other parties to block legislation last week, as Roque Planas reports for World Politics Review. Such infighting could harm efforts to reform Brazil’s onerous tax code, introduce inflation-fighting measures, or maintain government control over discretionary spending at a time of global economic volatility.
Despite tempestuous times for Rosseff’s administration, some observers see a positive side to the clampdown on business-as-usual kickbacks. The Christian Science Monitor says that the scandals and resignations will lead to better government in Brazil. Financial Times reports that Rousseff’s supporters say the president “is making the most of her high approval ratings…to clean out corruption and inefficiency in the government.”
- Read about President Rousseff’s latest approval ratings.
- The presidential blog covers the selection of Mendes Robeiro Filho to replace Rossi as agricultural minister.
- The Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents blog reports on the reignations of Nascimento and Rossi.