Suspended President Dilma Rousseff accused of breaking laws to hide a budget shortfall
Two-thirds vote in Senate required for impeachment; vote set for next week
With the Olympics party over, Brazil faced a sobering reality Thursday as its Senate opened the impeachment trial against suspended President Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female leader.
She is accused of illegally doctoring accounts ahead of her re-election in 2014 to hide a budget shortfall and to keep funding popular social programs.
Rousseff denies wrongdoing and calls the entire process a technical coup d’état driven by politicians implicated in a massive corruption investigation.
“When Brazil or when a president is impeached for a crime that they have not committed, the name we have for this in democracy, it’s not an impeachment, it is a coup,” she told journalists in May after the Senate voted to launch the proceedings.
Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski is presiding over the trial, with testimony from witnesses planned the first two days. Rousseff will take the stand Monday to present her defense.
Voting is slated to be held Tuesday, with Rousseff’s impeachment widely expected. It will require 54 votes in favor, or two-thirds of 81 senators.
Rousseff was suspended in May, and her vice president, Michel Temer, stepped in as interim president. If she is impeached, Temer would finish out the term, which ends in 2018.
Her impeachment would bring an end to 13 years of Workers’ Party rule that started with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a popular leader who served two terms.
Rousseff, a technocrat who had never won elected office, was Lula da Silva’s handpicked successor. She was re-elected in 2014, but with a deepening economic recession and a growing corruption scandal, her approval rating plunged to 10%.
At the same time, several politicians and business leaders were arrested, accused of a bribery scheme centered on the state-run oil company Petrobras. Rousseff was chairwoman of Petrobras for seven years, but she hasn’t been implicated in the investigation.
Nevertheless, massive protests swept across the country as Brazilians lashed out against political corruption and demanded Rousseff’s ouster.
She insists that many of the lawmakers who pushed for her impeachment want revenge because they were implicated in the investigation, notably Eduardo Cunha, who resigned as speaker of the lower house of Congress amid the scandal.
Rousseff vacated the presidential offices after the Senate’s decision in May but was allowed to remain in the presidential residence in Brasilia.
Financial markets have rallied at the prospect of an impeachment, but Brazil’s financial and political woes are far from over.
If confirmed as president, Temer would need to curb Brazil’s deficit and put the economy back on track to emerge from the worst recession in decades.
In the meantime, the ongoing Petrobras investigation has engulfed many politicians, both in Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and Temer’s Social Democrats, eroding support for Brazil’s political class in general.