Brazil's Senate votes to try President

Rousseff suspended as she faces impeachment, ending 13 years of rule by leftist Workers' Party

BRASILIA • Brazil's Senate voted yesterday to put leftist President Dilma Rousseff on trial in a historic decision brought on by a deep recession and a corruption scandal that will now confront her successor, Vice-President Michel Temer.

With Ms Rousseff to be suspended during the Senate trial for allegedly breaking Budget rules, the centrist Mr Temer will take the helm of a country that again finds itself mired in political and economic volatility after a recent decade of prosperity.

The 55-22 vote ends more than 13 years of rule by the left-wing Workers Party, which rose from Brazil's labour movement and helped pull millions of people out of poverty before seeing many of its leaders tainted by corruption investigations.

Even though the impeachment vote came in the middle of the night, residents in central Sao Paulo - Brazil's financial centre and an opposition stronghold - set off fire crackers, banged pots and yelled "Dilma out!" from their windows.

Senators made their cases in 15- minute blocks, alternately describing Ms Rousseff as the cause of Brazil's humiliating economic decline or defending her as victim of a coup in a deeply corrupt political system.

BITTER PILL

Impeachment is a tragedy for the country... It is a bitter though necessary medicine. But having the Rousseff government continue would be a bigger tragedy. Brazil's situation would be unbearable.

OPPOSITION SENATOR JOSE SERRA

Ms Rousseff, a 68-year-old economist and former Marxist guerilla who was Brazil's first female president, is unlikely to be acquitted in a trial that could last as long as six months.

A two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate to convict her, but the scale of her defeat yesterday showed that the opposition already has the support it needs.

"Impeachment is a tragedy for the country... It is a bitter though necessary medicine," opposition Senator Jose Serra, tipped to become foreign minister under Mr Temer, said during the debate. "But having the Rousseff government continue would be a bigger tragedy. Brazil's situation would be unbearable."

The impeachment process began in the Lower House of Congress in December. Ms Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and called her impeachment a "coup". "I may have made mistakes but I did not commit any crime," a stern-faced Ms Rousseff said, in an address before leaving the Planalto presidential palace following her suspension.

Warning that the biggest risk for the country was to be governed by those who had not been elected by voters, Ms Rousseff vowed to fight impeachment by all legal means.

Her government made a last- ditch effort to annul her impeachment, but it was rejected by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

While opposition supporters celebrated in the central Paulista Avenue of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, many Brazilians are concerned that the end of Workers Party rule could bring back bad times for the poor, who have made great strides in the last decade.

"Has Dilma made mistakes? Of course. But the Workers Party has done so much for us, for the people," said Mr Benedito Polongo, a 63- year-old janitor outside a shiny Brasilia business centre, who said he had no job or bank account before the party came to power.

"I fear that those who come after her will erase all that has been done for the poor," he added.

Even some of those opposing Ms Rousseff doubt that a change of power will resolve the country's underlying problems of corruption and mismanagement.

Pro-impeachment protester Sulineide Rodrigues said that even if she wanted Ms Rousseff out, she had few hopes for Mr Temer improving things.

"We don't think Temer will be any better," said Ms Rodrigues, 59. "But you know what we'll do? We'll keep coming back and keep having impeachments until there's someone there who listens to us Brazilians."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Brazil's Senate votes to try President'. Print Edition | Subscribe