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2018-1 Impeachments in Brazil

Guest editors

  • Camille Goirand (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, IHEAL)

  • Fréderic Louault (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

  • Marie-Hélène Sa Vilas Boas (Université Nice-Sophia-Antipolis)

Yesterday celebrated as a future economic giant, a stabilized democracy and an emergent middle-class society, Brazil experiences a major economic and political crisis today. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff during the summer 2016, and her substitution by the vice-president, Michel Temer, were interpreted by some as an “institutional coup” and by others as an answer to serious acts of corruption. The consecutive indictment of elected representatives who voted for the impeachment in name of public integrity led to a division, within the Brazilian political and civil societies, around the meaning of the procedure. Indeed, while many Parliament members and social groups supported the impeachment, demonstrations were organized in the country to denounce a process interpreted as a non-democratic seizure of power by the Brazilian right. Finally, the polarization of the political arena and the social space went hand in hand with an increasing judicialization of politics and conversely, the politicization of the judiciary [Engelmann, 2016].

If the early departure of a President is not rare in democratic Latin American countries – there were 18 interruptions of mandates over the period 1985-2008 [Marsteintredet, 2008] - this phenomenon rarely rested on the intervention of armed forces and did not come along with changes of regimes. The processes that lead to presidential mandate’s interruption are varied. In certain cases, the departure of a President was the result of its own initiative in a context of crisis, like Carlos Mesa in Bolivia; in others, it resulted from acts violating the democratic norms, such as the reversal by the army of the Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad; finally, the presidential mandate’s interruption sometimes ensued from a constitutional procedure. Fernando in Collor's departure in 1992 in Brazil enters this third type [Aníbal Peréz Liñán, 2008].

These processes can nevertheless intermingle. Indeed, the interruption of Dilma Rousseff’s mandate rested at the same time on a constitutional procedure and on a legislative intervention which legal and democratic rational are remaining discussed. By retracing Rouseff’s impeachment the ambition of this issue is to understand the entanglement between the plural dynamics that led and justified the end of her mandate.

The works on presidential mandates’ interruptions pointed out three explanatory factors of this phenomenon. First, certain authors emphasize the weakness of presidential “leadership”. This notion can be understood either as an individual feature that refers to the failures of the Head of State [Skidmore, 1998], either in a relational way and in this case it points to the erosion of its supports within the Congress and civil society [Ollier, 1998].

Second, the literature underlines the influence of partisan and electoral systems. If the intrinsic instability of presidential systems is not proved [Linz, 1990; Linz and Valenzuela, 1994], the combination of presidentialism and a multiparty system does not guarantee to the Head of State a parliamentary majority [Mainwaring, 2003]. According to this perspective, the interruption of a President's mandate is more likely to happen when the ruling coalition is in a minority within the Congress. Based on a proportional system and a fragmented multiparty system, the Brazilian regime is described as a paradigmatic example of the difficulties that a President can meet to build and stabilize a parliamentary majority [Abranches, 1988]. Hence, the dismissal of Collor in 1992 was explained by the statutory and electoral profits that the elected representatives hoped to earn. Both in 1992 and in 2016, it is in front of the national televisions, thus under the eye of their voters, that members of Parliament declared how they would vote and why [Monclaire, 1994; Banck, 1994].

These two factors, often combined, emphasize the internal dynamics of the political arena but neglect the influence of actors and organizations outside it [Sallum and Casarões, 2011].

A last perspective questions the influence of societal dynamics on presidential mandates’ interruption. Mobilization of social groups, composed of actors opposed to the government and disadvantaged by the measures taken by the executive power, correlates with the popularity of a President and his legitimacy. Kathryn Hotchlester [2008] shows that contentious mobilizations played a leading role in the presidents' premature departure in several Latin American countries. These collective actions can also be linked to socioeconomic evolutions. In an essay on Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, Marco Aurélio Nogueira [2016] underlines that the superior middle classes little benefited from all the reforms of the PT governments, more directed to the rich and the most deprived, a process that fed the mobilizations against the President and the PT as a whole.

This issue intends to analyse the processes leading to an impeachment in Brazil, in particular of Dilma Rousseff, by articulating the study of the internal stakes in the political arena and the analysis of societal dynamics. If each of these factors can be studied per se, their combination will be questioned, in order to surpass the sole internalist analyses of political arena or the only study of social mobilizations. This issue also aims at including an actor little studied in the literature on Presidential mandate’s interruption in Latin America, that is to say the judicial power, which interpretation of constitutional norms and debate framing was fundamental during the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

Finally, if the impeachment can be seen as a "revealer" of power relations between actors, it also generates transformations. As the object "scandal" studied by Damien de Blic and Cyril Lemieux [2005], the impeachment can be studied as an establishing moment, leading to repositioning, to a new distribution of institutional power and to new standards of behaviour. Articulating a double perspective - the dismissal as a revealer of the stakes and the conflicts within the political arena and the social space, on one hand, and on the other, as a transformation period - this issue intends to analyse the political situation in Brazil today.

We welcome comparative approaches that mirror the Brazilian case with experiences of presidential mandates’ interruption in others countries. We also invite authors to present historical analises in order to inscribe in the long duration the current Brazilian political situation.

The authors who wish to propose an article are invited to send a summary of a page before Mai 15th, 2017 to

If the summary is accepted, complete articles are expected by December 10th, 2017.

Lusotopie publishes articles in French, Portuguese and English.

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ANTUNES Claudia, 2015, « Tea Party à brasileira. Um debate com a nova direita », Piauí, n°103.
BANCK, Geert, 1994, « Democratic Transparency and the Train of Joy and Happiness: local politicians and the dilemmas of political change in Brazil », in Jojada Verrips (dir.), Transactions. Essays in honour of Jeremy Boissevain, Amsterdam, Spinhuis, pp. 135-146.
DE BLIC Damien et LEMIEUX Cyril, 2005, « Le scandale comme épreuve. Éléments de sociologie pragmatique », Politix, vol. 3, n° 71, pp. 9-38.
ENGELMANN Fabiano, « Julgar a política, condenar a democracia. Justiça e crise no Brasil », Revista conjuntura Austral, vol. 7, n°37, pp. 9-16.
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LIÑÁN, Aníbal Peréz, 2008, « Instituciones, coaliciones callejeras e inestabilidad políticas : perspectivas teóricas sobre las crisis presidenciales », América Latina hoy, vol. 49, pp.105-126.
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MAINWARING Scott, 2003, « Presidentialism, Multipartism and Democracy: The Difficult Combination »,
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MARSTEINTREDET Leiv, 2008, « Las consecuencias sobre el régimen de las interrupciones presidenciales en América latina », América Latina hoy, vol. 49, pp.31-50.
MONCLAIRE Stéphane, 1994, « Le quasi-impeachment du président Collor. Questions sur la 'consolidation de la démocratie' brésilienne », Revue française de science politique, n°1, pp. 23-48.
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NOGUEIRA Marco Aurélio, 2016, « Sobre golpes, autogolpes e contragolpes : dilemas de uma democracia em turbulência », Ponto e vírgula, Revista da PUC-SP, n°19, pp. 140-158.
OLLIER María Mathilde, 2008, « Democratic instability at dead end: presidential instability in Argentina », América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103.
SALLUM Brasilio Sallum e CASARÕES Guilherme Stolle Paixão, 2011, « O impeachment do presidente Collor: a literatura e o processo », Lua Nova, n° 82, pp. 163-200.
SCALON, Celi e SALATA, André, 2012, « Uma nova classe média no Brasil da última década ?: o debate a partir da perspectiva sociológica », Sociedade e estado, v. 27, n°2, pp. 387-407.
SKIDMORE, Thomas 1998, « Collor's Downfall in Historial Perspective», in Keith Rosenn et Richard Downs (orgs.), Corruption and political reform in Brazil: The Impact of Collor's Impeachment, Miami, North South Center Press, pp. 1-20.

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