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Rousseff: President, scapegoat

Jan D. Walter / jsAugust 8, 2015

Dilma Rousseff has extremely low approval ratings for a Brazilian president, even lower than Fernando Collor de Mello had - and that's while he was being impeached. At the same time, she is mapping out Brazil's future.

Dilma Rousseff
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. Sa

Rising prices, lagging economic performance and never-ending corruption - there are many reasons for Brazilians to be frustrated. And it seems that more and more of them are holding President Dilma Rousseff responsible for the situation.

In the latest survey conducted by the polling institute Datafolha, only 8 percent of Brazilians said they were happy with Rousseff's policies. Seventy-one percent of those questioned categorized her policies as "bad," or "very bad."

Those are the worst presidential approval ratings recorded since the institute began conducting national surveys in 1990. Fernando Collor de Mello even had higher approval ratings when he was constitutionally removed from office in September 1992.

In July, Brazil hosted fellow Mercosur nationsImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Sa

And that is exactly what Rousseff's opponents have in mind for her. They want to see the president impeached. According to the Datafolha poll, two-thirds of Brazilian voters would like to see that happen, too.

Past mistakes

Indeed, Rousseff cannot completely deny responsibility. During her first term in office (2011-14), she continued to implement the economic plans of her immediate predecessor, Inacio Lula de Silva, which were based on state-funded stimulus programs. Much of the income generated by Brazil's natural resources boom in the early 2000s was then used to finance social programs.

Those looking for structural economic reforms in Rousseff's agenda will search in vain. More than anything, Brazil's sheer unnavigable bureaucracy has scared away even well-intentioned investors. In the World Bank's 2014 "Doing Business" ranking, Brazil came in at number 123 - 81 points behind Mexico, the second largest national economy in Latin America.

The result: an economy that has been stagnating for years. Experts are even predicting a 2 percent drop in GDP for 2015. Unemployment and inflation are both nearing the 10 percent mark.

That makes it all the more frustrating for everyday Brazilians to look on as politicians from all of the major parties stuff their pockets and the pockets of their cronies with tax revenue and oil cash. In 2012, it was discovered that Rousseff's Workers' Party had systematically bribed parliamentarians during Lula's tenure.

Now, it seems that new allegations of illegal financial activity at the partially state-owned oil company Petrobras are coming to light daily. Rousseff must face the music on that front, as well, as she was a member of Lula's Cabinet, and sat on the Petrobras board of directors between 2003 and 2010.

Brazil is also a member of the economically up-and-coming BRICS groupImage: Reuters/RIA Novosti


In an interview with DW in June, Rousseff explained why she, more than anyone else, is being held responsible by the Brazilian people: "It is a burden that many people think that we politicians are responsible for corruption, but that burden is meaningless compared with the fact that I can guarantee that things have changed regarding corruption in Brazil."

It must also be said that the fact that these scandals are no longer just swept under the rug is, to a certain degree, thanks to Rousseff's policies. Further, she - unlike her opponent in last year's presidential election - has never been on the lists of the corruption investigation commission.

Even former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, one of her most prominent critics, has stood up for her: "Dilma Rousseff is an honorable person and is in no way involved in corruption," the internationally respected sociologist said.


With the start of her second term, Rousseff began to tackle economic reform. Currently, higher interest rates and less government spending are having an effect on inflation. She has also given companies the right to implement temporary work schemes in order to stay afloat in tough times and avoid having to layoff workers completely.

"We are witnessing a 180-degree turn towards free market economic policy," said Ingo Plöger, Brazilian president of the Latin American business association CEAL. The businessman said that under these circumstances things could start to pick up as early as 2016. In 2015, the World Bank already moved Brazil up three places in its "Doing Business" rankings, to No. 120.

"Economic reason is making Rousseff's political life more difficult," Plöger said. "These measures are highly unpopular, because they will only begin to show results in the medium term. Initially, they will mean the loss of jobs and make imported goods even more expensive."

Beyond that, Rousseff's voter base could rightfully accuse her of election fraud, as she is essentially implementing the economic programs of the opposition. They, however, would be loath to acknowledge that fact, Plöger said. But Rousseff is hardly likely to rob them of votes. The political fronts in Brazil are far too entrenched for that to happen.

More anti-Rousseff protests are scheduled to take place over the next few days. Protesters will likely use the demonstrations to again call for her impeachment. But angry voters alone are not enough to make that happen. If Rousseff cannot be charged with specific offenses, then she will remain president until 2018. By then, perhaps the country will be doing better. And Rousseff's approval ratings, too.