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Brazil's Lower House Votes to Impeach President Dilma Rousseff

It is now up to the Senate to decide whether to suspend Rousseff, as Brazil's political crisis plays out against a backdrop of a deep recession, and an ever-expanding litany of corruption scandals implicating political leaders from all major parties.

by VICE News and Reuters
Apr 18 2016, 4:24am

Photo de Fernando Bizerra Jr./EPA

Brazil's lower house of Congress voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday night, pushing the embattled leader a major step closer to being forced out of office.

It is now up to the Senate to decide whether to see the impeachment process through and temporarily suspend Rousseff. She is accused of presiding over an effort to hide the real size of national deficits by manipulating the budgetary accounts.

Deputies announced their vote one by one during the rowdy session that began on Sunday afternoon and included cheering, jeering, confetti bombs, and some scuffles.

Rousseff's Workers Party conceded defeat when it was clear there was no chance of preventing pro-impeachment support reaching the necessary two-thirds majority. The vote, at the time, stood at 314 in favor, to 110 against.

"The fight is going to continue now in the streets and in the federal Senate," Jose Guimaraes, the leader of the governing Workers' Party in the lower house, said as he accepted the defeat. "We lost because the coup-mongers were stronger."

Rousseff and her administration are deeply unpopular thanks to a deep recession and an ever-expanding network of corruption scandals. Her supporters, however, stress that the president herself has not been directly implicated in any of the scandals, many of which emanate from a massive probe into kickback schemes within the state-run oil company Petrobras.

Related: Brazil's Political Crisis Is Reaching Breaking Point

They also stress that many of those on the pro-impeachment side have — including the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who greenlighted the start of the impeachment process last December. Cunha has been charged with corruption and money laundering. He also faces a congressional ethics inquiry over his failure to disclose Swiss bank accounts.

"God have pity on this nation," Cunha said as he cast his vote in favor of impeaching Rousseff.

The deep division inside the chamber was mirrored in the demonstrations held by both sides in cities across the country to coincide with the vote that was also watched by millions on TV. The polarization was most starkly visible on the huge grassy esplanade outside the congressional building in the capital, Brasilia, where pro and anti impeachment protests were separated by a long metal barrier.

If the Senate agrees to go ahead with the impeachment, as seems likely, Rousseff will be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer as acting president pending her trial. If Rousseff were found guilty Temer would, in theory, serve out the rest of her term until 2018.

As Temer belongs to a different political party, removing Rousseff would also mean ending 13 years of government by the leftist Workers' Party that is credited with pulling millions out of poverty. The era began with the two wildly-popular governments of Inácio Lula da Silva. Rousseff took over in 2011, and was reelected in 2014.

While opinion polls suggest a majority of Brazilians, around 60 percent, support impeaching Rousseff, pro-impeachment demonstrations have been dominated by the middle classes. Meanwhile, both the president and her party, maintain a strong base of support among the poor.

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

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