The fate of Brazilian democracy was decided Wednesday as the country’s Senate voted 61 to 20 to impeach suspended President Dilma Rousseff after a trial that many international critics have described as a farce and a parliamentary coup.
There were were no abstentions among the 81 Senators, who easily passed the two thirds majority threshold of 54 votes to confirm the impeachment.
In the immediate leadup to the vote, Supreme Court chief Ricardo Lewandowski ruled to separate the vote on whether or not to impeach Rousseff from a vote on whether to suspend her “political rights” for the next eight years, which would bar her from running for any public office. Lewandowski announced the decision after Rousseff’s Workers Party requested the votes be split in two. The decision sparked a heated debating, further delaying the final vote.
Rousseff, suspended from office since May, is charged with spending money without congressional approval and using an accounting sleight of hand to make the government’s budget appear better than it was ahead of her 2014 reelection — a technique used by many previous presidents that critics of the process have argued is not an impeachable offense as defined in the constitution.
Her allies both nationally and internationally point out that many of the lawmakers who have plotted the coup are implicated in corruption cases far more serious than accounting tricks. According to the public interest organization Tranparencia Brasil, some 60 percent of the 594 members of the Congress face major criminal charges, from corruption to electoral fraud.
Closing arguments in the week-long trial began Wednesday. Tuesday, 66 of the chamber’s 81 senators took to the floor in a marathon session.
Rousseff and her supporters have, from the beginning, called her ouster a coup. Social movements, trade unions, campesinos, youth, Afro-Brazilian and youth groups have erupted in massive street protests across the country to support both Rousseff and democracy. The largest country in South America with a population of nearly 200 million, Brazil only at only rid itself of a military dictatorship 31 years ago.
“We are 54 million Dilmas,” read signs at many of the protests, referring to the number of votes Brazil’s first woman president received in 2014. Police are trying to crack down on protesters ahead of Wednesday vote.
Rousseff’s dismissal would consolidate a political shift to the right and the end of 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule that helped lift some 30 million Brazilians out of poverty.
In testimony to the senate Monday, the 68-year-old leader denied any wrongdoing and said the impeachment process was aimed at protecting the interests of the economic elite in Latin America’s largest country, comparing the trial to her persecution under Brazil’s military dictatorship, when she was tortured as a member of an urban guerrilla group.
If Rousseff is impeached, senate-imposed interim president Michel Temer will be immediately sworn in as president until the next scheduled elections in late 2018, even though he is banned from being elected to public office democratically for the next eight years as a result of electoral fraud charges. A right-wing member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party and known as the most unpopular man in Brazil, who was loudly booed at the Olympic opening ceremonies, Temer has been implicated in major corruption allegations, including bribery.
According to a recent poll by Datafolha, 60 percent of Brazilians would want snap presidential elections if Rousseff is removed to vote in a new leader to the country’s top office before the scheduled 2018 polls. Recent surveys have repeatedly shown that Rousseff’s Workers Party predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the favored candidate in the next election.
But so sure that Rousseff will be impeached, Temer has scheduled an address to the nation and meetings with officials for Wednesday, hoping to be officially sworn into office before 5 p.m., when he plans to fly out to China for the G20 summit.
In his few months in office, Temer has rolled back many of the social programs aimed at lifting marginalized communities out of poverty and isolation. Food subsidies, health care measures and education policies have been overturned and he has promised more austerity if he stays in office.
Workers’ Party Senator Angela Portela said it was a sad day for Brazil’s democratic system because an elected president was being unjustly impeached. “This is not a fair trial. It is a political lynching,” she said.
Two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of impeachment to convict her, which would amount to 54 of 81 senators.
A lead lawyer for the case to impeach Rousseff, Senator Janaina Paschoal, asked forgiveness for causing the president “suffering,” but insisted it was the right thing to do.
Rousseff’s counsel, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, retorted that the charges were trumped up to punish the president for her support of the huge corruption investigation into the national oil company Petrobras, known as Operation Car Wash, that has snared many of Brazil’s elite.
“This is a farce,” he said in a speech, “We should ask her forgiveness if she is convicted.”
“History will treat her fairly. History will absolve Dilma Rousseff if you convict her,” he added.