Of the 81 senators, 61 voted for her ousting, while 20 voted for her to remain. There were no abstentions. A two-thirds majority was needed for the president’s removal to be approved. Vice President Michel Temer took over as official president this afternoon.
Ms. Rousseff is accused of window-dressing government accounts and spending without authorization from congress. The prosecution claims these actions amount to misconduct, which is cause for impeachment according to the constitution. The defense claims the president’s actions cannot be considered as such, with impeachment therefore being illegitimate and equivalent to a coup d’état.
Ms. Rousseff was suspended from office three months ago when the senate made the final vote to proceed with her impeachment trial. Since then, Mr. Temer has been acting as interim president, having formed a new cabinet focused on staying in power and fixing the economy.
As per Brazilian law, the impeachment trial was held by the senate and moderated by current Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski. The trial was the climax of a long process that began in December 2015 and required multiple approvals by both houses of congress. With senators assuming the role of judges, impeachment in Brazil is both political and judicial. Once the legal basis is established, the political context in which the trial takes place can also influence its outcome.
Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment happens amidst a major political and economic crisis. She has been consistently losing popular and political support after a tumultuous 2014 reelection campaign and growing implication of her Workers’ Party in a large corruption scandal involving construction companies and state-owned enterprises. Her unpopularity was aggravated by Brazil’s fall into a deep economic recession that many feel resulted from her unorthodox economic policies. Since her reelection, massive protests have been held throughout the country to demand her ousting and support the fight against corruption.
Known for being a technocrat with no patience for politics, Ms. Rousseff never had an easy relationship with Congress. Impeachment became a real possibility when she refused to back representative Eduardo Cunha, from the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, in his bid for the presidency of the lower house. Cunha, an ally up to that point, won the election and became one of her fiercest political rivals, eventually opening the doors for the request for impeachment that ultimately led to her removal.
The impeachment request was written by renowned jurists Janaína Paschoal, Miguel Reale Jr, and Helio Bicudo. The latter was once a prominent member of the Workers Party, but left the party when the Mensalão (Big Monthly Allowance) corruption scandal broke out. Ms. Paschoal and Mr. Reale were active throughout the trial, assuming the role of prosecutors. Ms. Rousseff was defended by lawyer José Eduardo Cardozo, her former Justice Minister.
Despite being ousted from the presidency, Ms. Rousseff will keep the right to hold public sector jobs and run for office, contradicting what is explicitly stated in the constitution. This resulted from a controversial decision by Justice Lewandowski to hold separate votes for her ousting and the application of the penalty established by law. 42 senators voted to remove her rights, 36 voted for her to keep them, and three abstained. Previous impeached president Fernando Collor de Mello was not given the same benefit.
Impeachment may not be the end of Ms. Rousseff’s legal problems. She is under investigation for having nominated ex-president Lula as her Chief of Staff to protect him from prosecution. Unlike the charges that led to her impeachment, this might lead her to be criminally prosecuted. In addition to that, Ms. Rousseff and Mr. Temer’s 2014 reelection campaign is being investigated for illegal funding with money stolen from state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Although unlikely, this process can lead to Mr. Temer’s removal and the cancellation of the registration of both their parties.
The presidency was the first elected office Ms. Rousseff ever ran for, although she has been politically active since her youth, when she was a member of Marxist rebel militias that fought against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. She eventually obtained a degree in economics from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and joined the Democratic Labor Party, where she spent a large part of her political career in several technical government jobs related to energy policy. In 2001, she joined the Workers’ Party, serving first as president Lula’s Mines and Energy Minister and then replacing José Dirceu as Chief of Staff when the latter was forced to renounce due to his involvement in the Mensalão scandal. Other PT figures were also implicated in this scandal, making her the natural candidate for presidency. She was sold by the party as a competent, no-nonsense manager and easily won her first election in 2010 with the help of then-president Lula and an aggressive marketing campaign. Ms. Rousseff was Brazil’s first female president.
Image Source: Marri Nogueira/Agência Senado