Brazil could impeach Dilma Rousseff this week

Updated on
Suspended President Dilma Rousseff at a news conference with foreign media in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 14.

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff at a news conference with foreign media in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 14.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Just when the Olympic rush has ebbed in Brazil, the country is plunging into a different sort of sport: politics. The final phase for impeaching Dilma Rousseff is underway.

Brazil's suspended president testifies before the country's Senate on Monday. She is not expected to survive another week in office.

The process has inched slowly along for months. After numerous congressional debates starting back in December, the Senate trial is finally expected to roll into a really, really big vote late Tuesday or early Wednesday — the impeachment vote. 

If two-thirds of the senators in attendance vote to impeach her, Rousseff is doneski, and her vice president, acting President Michel Temer, can drop any prefix from his job title. Barring any unforeseen crises, Temer will lead Brazil until new elections in 2018.

Rousseff was re-elected in 2014 by a razor-thin margin. The leader of the leftist Workers’ Party, or PT, she promised to continue an egalitarian era introduced by her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But the economic and political climate refused to cooperate for Rousseff’s second four-year term.

Brazil had been booming. But a crash in global commodity prices progressively decimated the national economy throughout her tenure. A huge corruption scandal, linking politicos and executives at the state oil company, where she was once the chair, further eroded both GDP and investor confidence. The currency tumbled, unemployment soared, and Rousseff’s approval ratings dropped to single digits.

Accordingly, the impeachment process is seen by many analysts as more of a referendum on Rousseff’s leadership than a legal trial. In theory, it focuses on whether she broke fiscal laws by shuffling money around government accounts. But until recently, few legislators seemed to pay much attention to the technicalities of the rules she allegedly broke.

Unlike many of Brazil’s politicians, Rousseff is not accused of personally enriching herself from corruption. And she actually admits to creative accounting — she claims it’s what Brazilian presidents have done for years, and they were not kicked out of office for it.

Dilma, as she’s universally known in Brazil, and her supporters denounce the impeachment proceedings as a “coup.” Their claim has earned support from politicians across the globe, including Sen. Bernie Sanders.

After the prosecution dominated the trial on Thursday, the Associated Press reported, on Friday witnesses for Rousseff's defense were due to testify before the Senate.

On Monday, Rousseff will address the Senate, in her final defense before the vote.

On Tuesday morning, voting for an impeachment verdict will begin, and is expected to last well into the night, and probably until Wednesday morning.

There are 81 senators. Rousseff needs at least 28 senators to either vote against impeachment, not show up, or abstain in order to keep her job, according to the BBC. As of Friday, Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reported 52 senators have already decided to vote for impeachment, 18 would vote against impeachment and 11 were undecided.

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer opens the 2016 Rio Olympics on Aug. 5.

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer opens the 2016 Rio Olympics on Aug. 5.


Mark Humphrey/Pool/Reuters

Temer — the serious-looking, silver-haired guy who named an all-male cabinet and was booed at the Olympics opener — is not popular either. 

The first few weeks of his tenure would prove crucial. He would present a draft budget to congress on Aug. 31. You can expect a fight over budget cuts, especially if he digs into beloved social programs for the poor and retirees. And many will be watching to see if he attempts to stymie prosecutors investigating his colleagues in the “car wash” corruption scandal.

Stay tuned. The next phase in the game of Brazilian politics is therefore just beginning.

Follow Will Carless, who is in Brasilia, for updates on Twitter: @WillCarless

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