Recent events in Brazil have increased the likelihood that beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff could be impeached, analysts say, as courts allege she doctored government accounts to allow for more spending in the run-up to her re-election in 2014. The president, who is less than a year into her second four-year term, is grappling with multiple crises, including a faltering economy, mounting congressional opposition and a growing corruption scandal.
Millions of people across Brazil have taken to the streets in recent months calling for Rousseff's impeachment after it emerged her government was being probed under the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation into billions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks given to Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras.
Impeachment process in Cunha's hands
In Brazilian law, a potential impeachment process can be launched by the President of the House Eduardo Cunha, who is considered the gatekeeper of the impeachment process. In a showdown this week, Cunha vowed to review three impeachment requests, in spite of a Supreme Court injunction sought by Rousseff's Workers' Party (PT).
However, in the last 36 hours, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that a process proposed by Cunha, who recently made public his own guidelines for a potential impeachment, was illegal. The rejected guidelines allowed the opposition and the floor of the House to appeal if Cunha rejected an impeachment.
"That means Cunha can not go on with the process as he intended, which has been a blow for the impeachment process, but it does not, in any way, make it impossible for it to occur," Lucas de Aragão, a political analyst at Arko Advice, told IBTimes UK. "This is no way in the law that regulates impeachment."
This move has both empowered and weakened Cunha. While it has given him the final decision over the impeachment process, since he now either has to accept or reject it, this also means he could fall into the government's crosshairs and could be expelled from his role of President of the House if he accepts an impeachment request.
"Either he accepts the process and p****s off the government, or he rejects it and becomes friends with the opposition. He needs to choose sides, his position is very fragile, but he is willing to chose a side based on which side will protect him more in Congress."
Impeachment still very likely
Despite this week's injunction, political analysts say Cunha's recent comments have raised the likelihood of an impeachment process against Rousseff to 50%, up 20 percentage points in just six months. A recent Arko Advice poll found that more than half of federal representatives (51%) surveyed believe that a debate on impeachment is probable (34%) or very probable (17%) in the coming months, as Rousseff faces both political and judicial challenges.
"Now there is a serious risk because it all rests on his hands, and if he wants to opt for it, then a serious process begins," Aragão said. "Brasilia is living day by day, no one knows exactly what can happen because we see big news breaking overnight, we don't know if a new corruption scandal may arise and distress further the government."
Aragão, however, predicts that the country's Congress could be "completely paralysed" on the discussion of the impeachment. If Cunha loses his role and a pro-government President of the House is elected, this could ease the government's position.
Supreme Court likely to support Rousseff
Meanwhile, the Superior Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral, TSE) has ruled it would begin examining Rousseff's accounts of last year's electoral campaign. Aragão described this as the "most serious challenge to Rousseff because it alleges she doctored government accounts to allow for more spending in the run-up to her re-election a year ago".
"This was the most probable scenario, and could be more fuel on the government's crisis," he added. "Brazil is going through a situation where there's a lot of lack of credibility in the institutions so just the fact that you are investigating it is a way for the Supreme Court to protect itself from criticism that it is turning a blind eye".
It is highly unlikely, with the current evidence, that the TSE will remove Michel Temer, Rousseff's vice-president, for any of the alleged wrongdoings. "That's because the TSE is not ruling against Dilma's mandate, but the campaign she led with Michel Temer."
Similar investigations into governors' campaigns by Brazil's electoral courts took two and a half years to be concluded. According to sources within the TSE, however, it is highly unlikely that the court will remove two presidents at once – Rousseff and Temer.
"So the electoral court is investigating, but it is unlikely they will go further and cancel Dilma and Michel's ticket," Aragão explained.