Brazil’s Rousseff stripped of presidency, Temer sworn in

Rousseff speaks during the final session of debate and voting on her impeachment trial in Brasilia, Brazil, Aug 29, 2016.
Rousseff speaks during the final session of debate and voting on her impeachment trial in Brasilia, Brazil, Aug 29, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff was stripped of the country’s presidency in an impeachment vote on Wednesday (Aug 31) and replaced by her bitter rival Michel Temer, shifting Latin America’s biggest economy sharply to the right.

Rousseff, 68, was convicted by 61 of the 81 senators of illegally manipulating the national budget. The vote, which exceeded the needed two-thirds majority, meant the veteran leftist leader was immediately removed from office.

Three hours later, Temer – her centre-right former vice president and one time crucial coalition partner whom she now accuses of orchestrating a coup against her – was sworn in.

Cheers – and cries of disappointment – erupted in the blue-carpeted, circular Senate chamber as the impeachment verdict flashed up on the electronic voting screen.

Pro-impeachment senators sang the national anthem, some waving Brazilian flags, while leftist allies of Rousseff stood stony faced.

“I will not associate my name with this infamy,” read a sign held up by one senator.

“Coup plotters!” others chanted.

In a surprise twist, a separate vote to bar Rousseff from holding any public office for eight years failed to pass, meaning she could in theory re-enter political life.

Speaking at the Alvorada presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital Brasilia, Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, condemned her forced exit.

“They decided to interrupt the mandate of a president who had committed no crime. They have convicted an innocent person and carried out a parliamentary coup,” she said, defiantly vowing that she’d “be back.”

Temer, 75, was to mark his first day as president by flying late on Wednesday to China for a G20 summit. A recorded address to the nation was expected to be released later.

A stalwart of the centre-right PMDB party, Temer has vowed to steer Brazil away from 13 years of Workers’ Party rule in hopes that a more market-friendly track will resolve the country’s worst recession in decades.

Rousseff is accused of taking illegal state loans to patch budget holes in 2014, masking the country’s problems as it slid into today’s economic disarray.

She told the Senate during a marathon 14-hour session on Monday that she is innocent and that abuse of the impeachment process put Brazil’s democracy, restored in 1985 after a two-decades-long military dictatorship, at risk.

Recalling how she was tortured and imprisoned in the 1970s for belonging to a leftist guerrilla group, Rousseff urged senators to “vote against impeachment, vote for democracy.” However, huge anti-Rousseff street demonstrations over the last year have reflected nationwide anger at her management of a country suffering double-digit unemployment and inflation.

The once mighty Workers’ Party, meanwhile, has struggled to stage more than small rallies.

Temer, who was in an uncomfortable partnership with Rousseff before finally splitting from her, will be president until the next scheduled elections in late 2018.

Better known as a backroom wheeler-dealer than street politician, Temer took over in an interim role after Rousseff’s initial suspension in May.

He immediately named a new government that turned its back on more than a decade of leftist rule in which Brazil saw 29 million people lifted from poverty, but became bogged down in corruption and the ongoing economic slump.

Temer has earned plaudits from investors. It remains uncertain whether he will have voters’ support to push through the painful austerity reforms he promises.

About 50 leftist demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace to show their support for Rousseff.

“We are protesting against the coup and fighting for democracy,” said 61-year-old farmer Orlando Ribeiro.

In the centre of the capital, extra security and the closing of avenues near the Senate caused massive traffic jams. Police said they were preparing for large protests later in the day.

Venezuela and Ecuador both pulled their ambassadors from Brazil in protest at Rousseff’s removal.

On the Senate floor, emotions crackled in the run-up to the vote, then overflowed as senators made final speeches on what both sides of the debate agreed was history in the making.

Renan Calheiros, the Senate president, rejected Rousseff’s claim of a coup, saying her impeachment might not have been perfect, but had “the DNA of democracy, the DNA of the constitution.”

Senator Aecio Neves, Rousseff’s narrowly defeated centre-right opponent in her 2014 reelection, pronounced triumphantly: “The constitution won. Brazil won!”

But Senator Vanessa Grazziotin was scathing in her summing up of an “illegal process that is called impeachment but is a coup.”

“Temer does not have legitimacy to govern this country,” she warned.

“This is a farce, a farce, a farce,” shouted Another pro-Rousseff senator, Lindberg Farias.

Shaking his fists at the majority backing impeachment, he cried: “They’re going in the garbage can of history.”