Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ousted by Senate

Senate convicts Rousseff in impeachment which has divided Latin American giant

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 2:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 4:01am

Brazil’s Senate removed President Dilma Rousseff from office on Wednesday for breaking budgetary laws, ending an impeachment process that has polarised the scandal-plagued country and paralysed its politics for nine months.

Senators voted 61-20 to convict Rousseff for illegally using money from state banks to boost public spending, putting an end to 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule in Latin America’s largest economy. The opposition needed 54 of the 81 senators to vote in favor for her to be removed. They got many more, winning in a landslide of sorts, 61-20.

“The Senate has found that the president of the federal republic of Brazil, Dilma Vana Rousseff, committed crimes in breaking fiscal laws,” said Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who presided over the trial.

Brazil’s President Rousseff proclaims innocence at impeachment trial, branding her deputy a ‘usurper’

Conservative Michel Temer, the former vice president who has run Brazil since Rousseff’s suspension in May, was sworn in on Wednesday to serve out the remainder of the presidential term through 2018.

In a second vote about 30 minutes later, Rousseff won a minor victory as a measure to ban her from public office for eight years failed. The 42-36 vote fell short of the 54 votes needed for passage.

While Rousseff’s ouster was widely expected, the decision was a key chapter in a colossal political struggle that is far from over. Rousseff was Brazil’s first female president, with a storied career that includes a stint as a Marxist guerrilla jailed and tortured in the 1970s during the country’s dictatorship. She was accused of breaking fiscal laws in her management of the federal budget.

Opposition lawmakers, who made clear early on the only solution was getting her out of office, argued that the manoeuvres masked yawning deficits from high spending and ultimately exacerbated the recession in a nation that had long enjoyed darling status among emerging economies.

Nonsense, Rousseff countered time and again, proclaiming her innocence up to the end. Previous presidents used similar accounting techniques, she noted, saying the push to remove her was a bloodless coup d’état by elites fuming over the populist polices of her Workers’ Party the last 13 years.

Brazil’s first female president said the impeachment process was aimed at protecting the interests of the country’s economic elite and rolling back social programmes that lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty during the last decade.

Her opponents, however, have hailed the chance to turn the page on a drawn-out political crisis, the country’s worst recession in generations and a sweeping corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras .

Motorists honked car horns in the Brazilian capital in a blaring tribute to the removal of a president whose popularity had dwindled to single figures since winning re-election in 2014.

In Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, fireworks exploded in celebration after the vote.

Temer has vowed to boost an economy that has shrunk for six consecutive quarters and implement austerity measures to plug a record budget deficit, which cost Brazil its investment-grade credit rating last year.

But Brazilians have already gotten a taste of Temer’s leadership, and they are clearly unimpressed.

In May, Temer took over as interim president after the Senate impeached and suspended Rousseff. The 75-year-old career politician named a Cabinet of all-white men, a decision roundly criticised in a nation that is more than 50 per cent nonwhite. Three of his ministers were forced to resign within weeks of taking their jobs because of corruption allegations, which also follow Temer and threaten his hold on power.

When Temer announced the opening of the Olympics on August 5, he was so vociferously booed that he remained out of sight for the remainder of the games.

Rousseff’s allies have vowed to appeal to the country’s highest court. While previous petitions to the court have failed to stop the impeachment process, at the very least legal wrangling will keep the issue front and centre.

The decision also leaves many question marks over the economy, expected to decline for a second straight year. Temer has promised to pull the country of 200 million people from its recession by tackling reforms that have long been taboo, such as slimming public pensions.

But he has not been able to accomplish much the last 3 months as interim president, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will be willing to work with him.

He is also likely to face bitter political opposition from the Workers Party, which has vowed to take to the streets in protest.