Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted late Sunday to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, with at least 342 of 513 deputies voting in favor, to move her impeachment for fiscal irresponsibility forward. That threshold was passed shortly after 11 p.m. Brasília time Sunday, delivering a major blow to a long-embattled leader who repeatedly said there was a coup to remove her as president.
Rousseff is accused of mismanaging the federal budget to maintain spending and shore up support. She has said previous presidents used similar maneuvers and stressed that she has not been charged with any crimes or implicated in any corruption scandals.
The measure now goes to the Senate. If by a simple majority the Senate votes to take it up and put the president on trial, Rousseff will be temporarily suspended.
By default, if impeached, her vice-president, Michel Temer, would become president. He abandoned her side weeks ago. Third in line is Eduardo Cunha, president of the lower house who administered the vote today but both men work under a cloud of corruption accusations. So until then Rousseff remains in power until the impeachment proceeding is complete, which could take weeks. If she is impeached, the Senate would have 180 days to conduct a trial against Rousseff.
About 60 percent of the 594 members of Congress are facing corruption and other charges.
In the streets of São Paulo, massive balloons floated above the thousands of Brazilians gathered in what looked by all appearances to be a celebration for the impeachment process. In Rio de Janeiro, pro-government protesters filled the beachside road in Copacabana, while those against the government gathered in front of massive TV screens propped up on the beach to watch the voting. In Brasília, despite oppressive heat, Brazilians gathered in front of the Congressional building. A wall was constructed to separate the two sides.
Rousseff has hinted that she would appeal to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court, on the grounds that the accusations are false.
They argued the only way is to remove Rousseff, the country’s first female president, whose popularity ratings have dropped below 10 percent in recent months.
The deepening crisis comes as Brazil grapples with problems on multiple fronts. The economy is contracting, inflation is around 10 percent and an outbreak of the Zika virus, which can cause devastating birth defects, has ravaged parts of northeastern states. Rio de Janeiro is gearing up to host the Olympics in August, but sharp budget cuts have fueled worries about whether the country will be ready.
There is a “Car Wash” investigation into a kickback scheme in the Chamber of Deputies that has seen dozens of top politicians and businessmen in jail already.
While Rousseff herself has not been implicated, the kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras allegedly happened on her watch and that of former President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva. While many lawmakers and regular citizens blame her for letting the graft happen, many sitting lawmakers are accused in the scandal.
Critics said she comes off as stand-offish and arrogant, and her unwillingness to engage in back-slapping and wooing of opposition leaders cost her as the economy started to decline and she was unable to gather support for reforms.
“Impeachment is the way that the political system found to get rid of an incompetent leader,” said Luciano Dias, a political consultant based in Brasilia.