This story is over 5 years old.


The Impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff Now Seems All but Inevitable

Brazil awoke his Monday morning to the sobering reality that the lower house of congress just voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, less than two years after she was elected. The process now goes to the country's senate.
Photo by Sebastiao Moreira/EPA

Brazil awoke this Monday morning to the sobering reality that President Dilma Rousseff — elected less than two years ago by more than 54 million Brazilians — is on the verge of being pushed out of office.

Late Sunday night, the country's lower chamber voted 367 to 137 in favor of ending Rousseff's mandate. The vote will now be sent to the Senate, where a simple majority is needed to push the president into mandatory leave.


As the deputies slowly vacated the plenary on Sunday, a few remaining pro-impeachment protesters lingered on the lawn outside the congressional building, dancing to mash-ups of popular songs rewritten with pro-impeachment lyrics. The following morning, however, the mood was notably subdued in Brasilia, with the capital seemingly shell-shocked at what has just happened.

Rousseff herself stayed silence until 5.30pm, when she emerged for an hour-long press conference during which she equated her determination to fight the impeachment process with her activism during Brazil's military dictatorship.

"In the past, I confronted the dictatorship, and now I am confronting a coup d'etat that was not a tradition when I was young but, unfortunately, it has become a tradition in my adult life," she said. "Now, it is my dreams that are being tortured, and my rights."

Meanwhile, aides to Vice President Michel Temer told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo that he had begun the process of formulating new ministries in a government that will fall under his control if the impeachment vote passes the Senate.

The announcement of the 342nd vote, giving the pro-impeachment side the two thirds majority it needed in the lower house, came after 11pm. The chamber erupted into applause, with opposition members cheering and embracing one another. Outside, car horns entered into a chorus and pro-impeachment protesters on the lawn adjacent to the congressional building set off fireworks.


Bruno Araújo, who cast that decisive vote, called it a "historic moment."

Related: Dilma Rousseff Is Close to Being Impeached, but Not All Brazilians Hate Her

The impeachment process is based on allegations that President Rousseff indulged in some accounts window dressing to hide budgetary shortfalls after her reelection in 2014. She is also very unpopular thanks to a deepening recession.

The president, however, has never been directly accused in the sweeping corruption investigations into kickbacks paid from inflated contracts issued by the state-run oil company Petrobras.

Lower house president Eduardo Cunha, however, has.

Cunha, who has led the charge on the impeachment process, faces multiple allegations of corruption, money laundering, and hiding the existence of Swiss bank accounts. He presided over the nine-hour session, calling each of the 513 deputies to the stand one by one as the total "yes" votes slowly ticked up on a screen behind him.

Of the "no" votes, many deputies used their time at the podium to confront Cunha. They called him a thief, a conspirator, and a fraud, noting that 303 of the lower chamber deputies deciding Rousseff's fate are themselves being investigated for serious crimes.

"I do not see Eduardo Cunha as fit to oversee this process, I do not believe that the conspirator, Michel Temer, is fit to run this country," said Paulo Pimenta, a Workers' Party deputy from the state of Rio Grande do Sul referring to the vice president.


Patrus Ananias, from Minas Gerais, called it a "coup against social policies and a coup against the country's poor."

Some voted in favor of impeachment, but not before making clear their distaste for Cunha. Expedito Netto, from Rondonia, said if it were the leader of the lower house being impeached, he would also vote in favor.

But an overwhelming number of deputies took the microphone to offer exuberant support for the president's ousting.

Related: Impeachment Is Snapping at the Heels of Brazil's President Rousseff

Few mentioned the actual charges against the President. Instead they claimed to be voting for their honor, their families, and their home state voters in the name of ending corruption and a new start for Brazil.

"I am voting "yes" for all the people who took to the streets asking for this moment, and for the farmers, and for a new hope for the country of Brazil," said Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa Diaz, a deputy from Mato Grosso do Sul.

Deputy Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, underlined rising fears that the political crisis could prompt a return to authoritarianism. He dedicated his "yes" vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, a general who led the unit that tortured Rousseff and other activists during the military dictatorship.

Rio de Janeiro deputy Jean Wyllys spat at Bolsonaro when he came down from the podium after announcing his "no" vote and telling the chamber that he was "ashamed to participate in this farce."


Outside the congressional building things were somewhat less confrontational, though equally divided. There were demonstrations against and in favor of President's Rousseff's departure in 25 Brazilian states and the Federal District.

In Brasilia, car dealer Silvia Santos called for Rousseff's departure, but said she would prefer that the military take power until new elections are called.

"I do not think Temer will be a good president, he is part of the same world," Santos said. "I think that the military should take power, until we can vote again."

On the other side of the long metallic fence erected by the police to keep the two sides separate, Imaculada Maria said it is a struggle between classes.

"Dilma rules for the needy," she said. "Those who are in favor of impeachment are the elite, who think only of themselves and want to take the country back into their hands."

Related: Protesters Waste No Time Calling for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's Impeachment

With the vote now pushed to the Senate, the government is desperately seeking backroom maneuvers that could ensure its survival, or at least avoid just handing power to the right-wing opposition.

Strategists close to Dilma have told reporters they have already begun a national signature-collecting campaign that would push the country to general elections if the impeachment passes the Senate. It is unclear whether or not this proposal has popular support. Rousseff herself did not mention the possibility of early elections on Monday.


Meanwhile, political analysts believe that Temer could assume power as early as next weekend, given the wide margin of the vote passed in the lower chamber.

A member of a different party, Temer has distanced himself from Rousseff in recent weeks. He was photographed smiling during the impeachment vote in the lower chamber and last week, in a leaked audio file ahead of the committee vote, he referred to a "significant vote" as though the impeachment had already taken place, and outlined policies for a government under his command.

Ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who flew back to Brasilia ahead of the impeachment vote in an attempt to rally last-minute support, is also expected to start to distance himself from Rousseff in the wake of the impeachment vote.

"Lula will start to build a platform for himself for 2018," said Leonardo Barreto, an analyst and professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. "But it is not just that he has to build a platform, he also has to rebuild the whole party, which has been largely broken in this process."

For others, the impeachment vote on Sunday will have long-term, negative implications for the country's political system.

"It could mean that all elected presidents, from here forward, live under the threat of their term being interrupted," said Marcelo Paixão, a professor of sociology and economics at the University of Texas at Austin. "It is a kind of coup against a president who — with all the problems she has, and they are numerous — was elected by 54 million Brazilians."

Related: President Rousseff Is Bringing Back Lula as She Fights Impeachment and He Fights Arrest

Follow Eva Hershaw and Leandro Melito on Twitter: @beets4eva and @leandromelito