In a historic and emphatic repudiation of President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s lower house of congress voted on Sunday to impeach the embattled leftist leader, whose popularity has plunged as the nation has fallen into recession and political paralysis.
The Chamber of Deputies voted 367-137, with seven abstentions and two no-shows, topping the necessary threshold of 342 votes to move the impeachment proceedings to the Senate. The upper house will now decide in coming days whether she should stand trial for allegedly violating Brazil’s budget laws.
Sunday’s vote marks a major step toward removing Ms. Rousseff from power. The odds are against her prevailing in the Senate, which isn’t likely to save a badly weakened president, said Carlos Melo, a political-science professor at the Insper business school in São Paulo.
“She goes to the Senate in a very unfavorable position,” Mr. Melo said.
When the decisive 342nd vote was cast by lawmaker Bruno Araújo of the conservative Brazilian Social Democracy Party, government opponents erupted in wild cheers, exchanged high-fives, and waved placards sarcastically inscribed with the words “Tchau querida” (“Bye darling”).
Lofty speeches, angry outbursts, catcalls and occasional cursing set the tone, as a voting process that began around 5:45 p.m. local time stretched toward midnight local time.
“President Dilma, you are feeling what 10 million Brazilians felt when they received the news they had lost their jobs. You are losing yours,” said Deputy Cabo Sabino, from the northeastern state of Ceará, in announcing his vote. “Bye darling, you don´t need to come back.”
The defeat was an overwhelming rebuff to the president and her allies, who in recent days had tried to persuade wavering lawmakers to stick with her coalition by promising ministerial posts and other perks. Critics denounced the administration’s efforts as the desperate maneuvering of a leader determined to cling to power.
The political fight now moves to the Senate, which first must decide by a simple majority whether to accept the case. If Ms. Rousseff loses that ballot, she would be forced to step down for a maximum of 180 days while she is put on trial. Vice President Michel Temer would take over during that period.
A two-thirds senate vote for impeachment would be required to permanently remove Ms. Rousseff from office. If that occurs, Mr. Temer would serve out the remainder of her term, which runs through the end of 2018.
Ms. Rousseff is charged with using loans from state banks to cover budget gaps and mask the sorry state of the nation’s public finances. She denies doing anything illegal, and legal scholars are split over whether the charges are sufficient grounds for her removal.
But the impeachment push also is being driven by public anger over a moribund economy and a massive corruption scandal at Brazil’s state oil company for which Ms. Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party, or PT, has shouldered much of the blame.
Sunday’s vote is certain to be met with heated resistance by Ms. Rousseff’s supporters, who have vowed to keep up their public opposition to what they regard as a partisan vendetta.
“We will fight to the end of the process, in the Senate, in the courts and in the streets,” said PT Deputy Paulo Pimenta, the government’s vice-leader in the Chamber of Deputies.
The balloting came after 18 months of political turmoil following Ms. Rousseff’s narrow re-election in 2014. Since then, her approval ratings have dipped as low as 9% as a corruption probe shook the upper echelons of her party and Brazil tumbled into its worst recession in generations.
The potential ouster creates a serious test for democracy in Brazil, where so far four of the eight presidents elected since 1950 were unable to serve out their terms.
Ms. Rousseff could become the second sitting president removed from office since military rule ended in 1985. In 1992, then-President Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached. Of the others elected since 1950, two died and one was overthrown in a coup at the start of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
“Here’s a country that is the seventh- or eighth-largest economy in the world, and the political system is completely screwed up,” said Melvyn Levitsky, who served as U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 1994 to 1998.
The president’s backers said that Ms. Rousseff has been made into a scapegoat for widespread frustration over the sagging economy and pervasive corruption that has touched all Brazil’s major parties.
Petrus Ananias, a PT federal deputy, said he is worried that Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment would make future presidents vulnerable to removal every time their popularity flags. “The institutional order is being broken.”
Ms. Rousseff, a former guerrilla who was tortured by the military during the dictatorship, has accused her conservative rivals of orchestrating a coup in hopes of dismantling her party’s legacy of standing up for the poor. She and former President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are credited with helping lift nearly 40 million Brazilians from poverty with cash handouts, subsidized housing and cheap credit during the commodity boom that bolstered the nation’s consumer class.
“They want to defeat, at all costs, what I represent: a project of development and social inclusion that we’ve worked for every day for the past 13 years,” Ms. Rousseff said in a video address released over the Internet on Friday night.
The president’s supporters said the alleged accounting offense amounts to little more than a technicality in a nation where politicians have long evaded punishment for serious crimes. Many are outraged that some of the lawmakers pushing hardest to impeach her have been caught up in a graft probe centered on Brazil’s state oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras.
House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who presided over the proceeding in the Chamber, has been charged with pocketing millions in funds diverted from Petrobras. He has denied wrongdoing and so far has evaded efforts by the nation’s attorney general and his own colleagues to remove him from his powerful perch.
“May God have mercy on this nation,” Mr. Cunha, an evangelical Christian, said on Sunday as he cast his vote for impeachment.
During voting, several deputies denounced Mr. Cunha and warned that he would be the next to fall.
Ms. Rousseff’s likely successor, Mr. Temer, enjoys broader support in Congress through his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, the largest in the country. Markets have rallied in recent weeks in anticipation of regime change. Mr. Temer is viewed as a business-friendly figure who will work to cut public spending and loosen Brazil’s red tape.
But it remains to be seen whether he will be able to tackle major changes such as pension overhauls that economists say Brazil needs. Several high-ranking members of his party, including Mr. Cunha, are caught up in the Petrobras scandal. Mr. Temer is also deeply unpopular with the public: 60% of Brazilians said they would like to see him resign along with Ms. Rousseff, according to a recent survey by the Datafolha polling agency.
Sunday’s vote put an exclamation point on a hectic eight weeks during which the political situation rapidly spiraled out of Ms. Rousseff’s control, as more damaging Petrobras allegations emerged, moving the scandal closer to the president’s door.
A crucial development occurred in mid-March, when Mr. da Silva accepted a job as Ms. Rousseff’s chief of staff, in a last-ditch effort to shore up the government that opponents claimed was intended to shield Mr. da Silva from prosecution.
On Sunday in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, pro-impeachment demonstrators clustered on the main thoroughfare of Avenida Paulista. Many said the removal of Ms. Rousseff was only the beginning of a long road to try to clean up Brazilian politics.
“We can no longer accept such corruption,” said Heloisa von Gal, a 57-year-old real-estate agent. “After her removal, there will be hope, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal Online – 04/18/2016