Brazil Congress votes to impeach President

Rousseff's fate now lies with Senate, which votes next month on whether to oust her

BRASILIA • Brazilian lawmakers have authorised impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff in a rowdy, circus-like showdown that plunged Latin America's biggest country into deep political crisis.

Opposition deputies in the Lower House of Congress needed 342 of the 513 votes, or a two-thirds majority, to send Ms Rousseff to the Senate, which will now decide whether to open a trial. They got there after five hours of voting on Sunday.

Wild cheering and a burst of confetti erupted from the opposition at the 342nd vote, countered by furious jeering from Ms Rousseff's allies.

Outside Congress, several thousand police officers stood at the ready in the capital, Brasilia, with about 53,000 pro-impeachment demonstrators separated by a long metal wall from about 26,000 pro-Rousseff supporters.

If, as many expect, the Senate votes next month to impeach the leftist President, Vice-President Michel Temer - who abandoned Ms Rousseff to become a key opponent - will assume interim power.

The Senate needs support from two-thirds of its 81 members to impeach the President and terminate her mandate. If impeached, she would be banned from public office for eight years.

Mr Temer would then stay on until elections in 2018. Ms Rousseff may still appeal any ruling to the Supreme Court. If discussions in the Senate last more than 180 days without a decision, the President resumes office.

Ms Rousseff, 68, is accused of illegal accounting manoeuvres to mask government shortfalls during her 2014 re-election campaign.

Many Brazilians also hold her responsible for the economic mess and a massive corruption scandal centred on state oil company Petrobras, a toxic record that has left her government with 10 per cent approval ratings.

The President and her allies had lobbied frantically in an effort to turn the tide, with her mentor, the fiery ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, joining their final push.

"President Dilma Rousseff's government recognises this temporary defeat but that does not mean that the war is over," said Mr Jose Guimaraes, leader of the Workers' Party in the Lower House.

Huge opposition rallies over the last months have played a big role in turning pressure against Ms Rousseff into an avalanche.

If Mr Temer becomes president, either in the interim or longer, he will inherit a country wallowing in its deepest recession in decades and a dysfunctional political scene with Ms Rousseff's Workers' Party vowing revenge.

"It will not be easy" for Mr Temer, said independent political analyst Andre Cesar. "It will be a nightmare."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Brazil Congress votes to impeach President'. Print Edition | Subscribe