The Brazilian Senate voted today to impeach embattled President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. A separate vote will be held on whether she will be barred from public office for eight years. Rousseff had been suspended from office since May.
Today’s impeachment by the country’s corruption-tainted senate ends 13 years of Workers’ party rule, a party known for leading Brazil into an era in which the economy boomed, lifting millions into the middle class and putting the country on the map as an international economic player.
Once known for “setting a global standard” on fighting corruption, Rousseff has faced an uphill battle to maintain the highest office since shortly after winning her re-election bid.
In a 61 to 20 vote, the upper house voted to impeach Ms. Rousseff on charges of manipulating the federal budget in an effort to conceal the nation’s mounting economic problems ahead of her 2014 election. Those leading the charge for impeachment claim this constitutes a “crime of responsibility”. Rousseff has denied breaking any laws and claims the charges – which were never levelled at previous administrations who did the same thing – have been trumped up by opponents who were unable to accept her victory. She and her supporters call her ouster a coup that undermines Brazil’s young democracy.
Rousseff took the stand Monday in a final bid to save her presidency, telling her former colleagues in the Senate: “Don’t expect from me the obliging silence of cowards.” After which she was peppered with questions from legislators for more than 14 hours Monday in a marathon session during her impeachment trial.
“This is serious because other presidents of the republic will have to deal with this,” Ms. Rousseff said this week in her testimony in the Senate, comparing her ouster to the coups toppling Brazilian leaders throughout much of the 20th century. “If that isn’t political instability, then I don’t know what is.”
She’s not alone in her belief that her ouster will result in continued political instability. Her allies argue that her removal from office less than halfway through her mandate reinforced the impression that the country’s political class remains uncomfortable with democracy although more than 30 years have passed since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship. In retrospect, those three decades were in fact marred by significant political instability. Of the last eight directly-elected presidents, only two have completed their terms. Two have been impeached, one removed in a military coup, one killed himself, one died before taking power and another resigned.
In recent months, Ms. Rousseff found herself increasingly isolated with many in her party quietly withdrawing their support. But a few of her closest allies defended Ms. Rousseff as she made her last-ditch effort before the Senate this week.
“You veered from the narrative when you were elected president of the republic as a woman, from the left, a former militant against the dictatorship, without a husband to pose by your side in the photographs,” said Regina Sousa, a Workers’ Party senator from Piauí in northeast Brazil.
“You never fit in the cute little dress designed by the conservative elite of this country,” Ms. Sousa added.
Workers’ party senator Lindbergh Farias said the president’s accusers were cowards. “It’s amazing how everyone who didn’t have the gall to look Dilma in the eyes spoke so bravely today in her absence,” he tweeted.
The musician and democracy activist Chico Buarque, who was among Rousseff’s supporters in the gallery, said the debate was rigged against her. “If the game were clean, she would have won,” he told local media.
The law professor who was the lead author of the impeachment request had a few parting words as well. Crying as she spoke, Janaína Paschoal said she had been inspired by God and that she was seeking impeachment for the good of Ms. Rousseff’s grandchildren.
Clearly outraged that her opponents would stoop so low as to drag Rousseff’s family into the debate, her lawyer, José Eduardo Cardozo, was quick to point out that Ms. Rousseff was never accused of embezzling public funds to benefit her family.
“If you want to condemn her, go ahead, but don’t mock the honor of a dignified woman,” said Mr. Cardozo, also crying as he spoke.
Rousseff’s achievements in office were mainly an expansion of equality policies put in place by her predecessors, especially the bolsa familia poverty relief program, which now reaches almost 14 million households.
Thanks to affirmative action and wider access to higher education, university enrollments jumped 18% during her first term. Since 2009, 2.6 million homes have been delivered by the government housing program – Minha Casa Minha Vida. Her record in other key areas however is mixed. After falling in her first two years in power, deforestation of the Amazon has started to rise again.
Few believe that her impeachment will restore public confidence in Brazil’s leaders, or diminish the corruption that pervades the country’s politics. To the contrary, many Brazilians note that simply it transfers power from one scandal-plagued party to another.
Michel Temer, 75, the interim president who served as Ms. Rousseff’s vice president before breaking with her this year, is now expected to serve out the remaining two years and three months of her term in office.
Mr Temer, the leader of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was leading the conspiracy against his former running mate. However, his party which anchored the Workers’ Party’s governing coalition for more than a decade, was also deeply entrenched in the same schemes that have stained Brazil’s political system in recent years. The PMDB (as they are known in Brazil) arguably benefited just as much as the Workers’ Party from huge bribes and illicit campaign financing.
Since becoming interim president in May, Mr. Temer’s approval ratings have tanked to nearly the same levels as Ms. Rousseff’s. Immediately after taking power he named a cabinet without any female or Afro-Brazilian ministers, thus outraging many in a country where nearly 51 percent of people define themselves as black or mixed race, according to the 2010 census.
Several of the men he named to lead his administration have already resigned under the cloud of scandal, including his anti-corruption minister as well as his planning minister amid claims that they were part of a scheme to thwart investigations into the bribery engulfing the national oil company, Petrobras.
Mr. Temer was also recently found guilty of violating campaign finance limits, a conviction that could make him ineligible to run for office for eight years. Additionally, a construction executive has testified that Mr. Temer accepted a $300,000 bribe, an assertion Mr. Temer disputes.
Shortly after the swearing in ceremony, he is scheduled to fly to China to attend the G20 summit in Hangzhou, where he hope to restore some of the credibility of an administration that has been battered by accusations of treachery and three ministerial resignations due to corruption scandals.
Temer has promised to introduce austerity measures in an effort to restore Brazil’s credit ratings, which fell under Rousseff to nearly junk levels. This move is popular with investors, but not with the public, resulting in the decline of his approval ratings.
During the final stages of Rousseff’s senate impeachment trial, there was no repeat of the mass rallies in Brazil that marked earlier stages of the process. However, a small group of Rousseff supporters staged a candlelit vigil in the main esplanade. Bigger protests have been seen in other cities this week. In São Paulo police fired tear gas and percussion grenades into crowds of anti-impeachment protesters on Monday night. Demonstrators claim the security forces resorted to excessive use of force in what they fear will be a precursor of more clampdowns on opposition. Police claimed the protesters – many from the Landless Workers’ Movement – blocked roads and detonated a home-made bomb.