When there are millions of people in the streets demanding your resignation, it’s hard to make things worse: But that’s just what Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff did today (Mar. 16) when she appointed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as her chief of staff (link in Portuguese.)
Members of her political party say the veteran politician will provide a steady hand to combat attacks against Rousseff, including impeachment proceedings that are set to begin this week. But the move, which will give Lula immunity from Brazil’s lower courts, is seen by many as a strategy to protect him from money-laundering charges that were filed against him.
Risk-assessment firm Eurasia Group puts the chances of Rousseff stepping down before she finishes her term at 65%, up from 55% just a few days ago, it said in a note to clients.
Rousseff is also facing fresh accusations that she allegedly interfered with the investigation into Brazil’s largest corruption scandal at oil giant Petrobras. Both Rousseff and Lula have denied any wrongdoing.
The president has been unable to shield her government from the fallout of Operação Lava Jato, the sweeping probe into Petrobras that was made possible by anti-corruption laws she helped put in place.
Prosecutors in the case have been reaching plea bargain agreements with politicians in exchange for information implicating more senior officials, which has led the probe to the highest levels of government. A senator of Rousseff’s party, Partido dos Trabalhadores, told prosecutors that Rousseff instructed a key advisor to give him a bribe to discourage him from signing a plea deal, the weekly news magazine Veja reported (Portuguese.)
Lava Jato investigators have already questioned Lula, who has been separately charged by São Paulo state prosecutors with illegally accepting a luxury apartment from one of the companies found to be involved in the Petrobras corruption scheme.
Lava Jato is also working against Rousseff by fueling public outrage over the state of Brazilian politics. Several million Brazilians took the streets on Sunday to call for her impeachment, increasing pressure for her to step down.
Putting Lula on staff will only inflame the anger of Rousseff’s opponents.