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Brazil’s President Impeached

With just a few months to go before the nation takes center stage, Brazil’s President is now facing impeachment:

BRASÍLIA — Brazilian legislators voted on Sunday night to approve impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the nation’s first female president, whose tenure has been buffeted by a dizzying corruption scandal, a shrinking economy and spreading disillusionment.

After three days of impassioned debate, the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to send the case against Ms. Rousseff to the Senate. Its 81 members will vote by a simple majority on whether to hold a trial on charges that the president illegally used money from state-owned banks to conceal a yawning budget deficit in an effort to bolster her re-election prospects. That vote is expected to take place next month.

Those pressing for impeachment had to win the support of two-thirds of the 513 deputies in the lower house; the decisive 342nd vote for impeachment happened at about 10:10 p.m. Eastern time. The final vote was 367 for impeachment, 137 against and 7 abstaining. Two deputies did not vote.

If the Senate accepts the case, Ms. Rousseff will step down temporarily while it deliberates her fate. Vice President Michel Temer, a constitutional law scholar and seasoned politician, will assume the presidency.

Given the larger-than-expected margin of deputies voting for impeachment, some political analysts said the Senate was likely to remove Ms. Rousseff from office, a ruling that would require a two-thirds majority.

“Politicians know how to read society pretty well, and they can sense that the people want her out,” said Paulo Sotero, the director of the BrazilInstitute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Ms. Rousseff can still appeal to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court, though it has rejected previous motions to have the impeachment measure dismissed.

The chamber’s decision to impeach Ms. Rousseff less than halfway through her second term provoked shouts of joy among the thousands of protesters who had gathered in the capital and in cities across the country, but also cries of treachery from her supporters.

Weeping as she stood amid the throngs rallying in support of the president, Gabriela Correia, 22, a customer service representative, said she was disgusted that so many deputies, some of them notoriously corrupt, had voted against Ms. Rousseff. “I want to make clear that I’m not here to defend a politician, but to protect our democratic political system,” she said. “My heart is aching.”

Some political analysts said they worried that the move to impeach Ms. Rousseff would cause lasting damage to Brazil’s young democracy, re-established in 1985 after two decades of military dictatorship.

“This is a coup, a traumatic injury to Brazil’s presidential system,” said Pedro Arruda, a political analyst at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo. “This is just pretext to take down a president who was elected by 54 million people. She doesn’t have foreign bank accounts, and she hasn’t been accused of corruption, unlike those who are trying to impeach her.”

(…)

“This is a government that has lost legitimacy, credibility and the ability to govern,” said Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research group in Washington. “It’s a terrible situation.”

Although Ms. Rousseff is not accused of corruption, the Petrobras scandal has implicated important members of her party, including Mr. da Silva. He is being investigated over allegations that he and his foundation received the equivalent of $7.8 million in services and lecture fees from construction companies seeking government contracts.

The unfolding scandal, known as Operação Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, has riveted Brazilians, as prosecutors have released details of how Petrobras funneled millions of dollars into the political campaigns of Workers’ Party politicians and their allies.

The news of Rousseff’s impeachment comes just over three months from the start of the 2016 Olympics, suggesting that an event meant to showcase the best of modern-day Brazil could be coinciding with a prolonged period of political and social unrest that could have as yet unknown consequences. At the very least, it appears that Rousseff will be far too busy with her own problems to preside over any of the festivities.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook