President Dilma Rousseff on Monday appeared on the verge of losing office after a congressional vote to impeach her and signs suggested only tenuous support for her in the Senate, which will decide whether to remove her amid a political and economic crisis.
The 367-137 lower house vote in favor of impeachment late Sunday sent the issue to the Senate, where 45 of the 81 senators have indicated they will vote to hold an impeachment trial, according to local reports.
If a majority of senators vote to put Rousseff on trial, she would be suspended while Vice President Michel Temer temporarily took over.
Under the complicated guidelines of the impeachment process, it could be a little more than 10 days until that vote is cast and a minimum of 40 days until the Rousseff’s fate is decided. However, the speed of the process also depends on the political will of Senate leader Renan Calheiros, who could potentially drag the eventual trial and final vote out for months.
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Rousseff said she would not be stepping down.
”I have the energy, strength and courage to confront this injustice,” she said, while also accusing Temer of conspiring against her.
The lower chamber’s vote worsened the confusion over the political landscape in Brazil, which also is struggling with its worst recession in decades and a big corruption scandal while it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.
The impeachment vote has deeply divided Brazilians, tens of thousands of whom demonstrated in front of Congress and in cities nationwide during the vote.
Many hold Rousseff responsible for everything from the devastating recession to chronic high taxes and poor public services. At the same time, a broad swath of the population attributes tens of millions of poor Brazilians’ rise from destitution over the past decade to Rousseff’s Workers Party and decried the vote as anti-democratic.
”I’m happy because I think Dilma had to go, but I’m also both sad that it came to this and also really worried that the next president could be even worse,” said Patricia Santos, a 52-year-old small business owner who was among the demonstrators outside Congress. ”I quiver to think what awaits us next.”
The impeachment proceedings against Rousseff are based on accusations she used illegal accounting tricks to shore up her flagging support through public spending.
Rousseff says previous administrations used such fiscal maneuvers without repercussions. She insists the accusations are a flimsy excuse by Brazil’s traditional ruling elite to grab power back from her left-leaning party, which has ruled the country for 13 years.
Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said after the vote that Rousseff would fight impeachment in the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court.
But analysts were skeptical that she would be able to hold onto power, noting her spectacular failure to win the support even of parties that had long been part of her governing coalition.
Editorials in Brazil’s top newspapers highlighted the danger posed by the political instability.
The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper warned of ”the threat of strikes and daily demonstrations.” Folha de S. Paulo urged speed in resolving the problem, adding, ”The crisis is far from over.”
The political standoff has dragged on for months, hamstringing efforts to respond to the country’s worst recession in decades. It comes amidst an unfurling corruption scandal centered on the state-run Petrobras oil company that has entangled political and business leaders – though not Rousseff herself.
Sunday’s vote came about 24 years after the lower house opened impeachment proceedings against Fernando Collor de Mello, Brazil’s first democratically elected president after more than two decades of military rule. Collor faced corruption allegations and ended up resigning before the conclusion of his trial in the Senate.
While their alleged misdeeds were different, Rousseff ultimately made the same political mistakes that Collor did, said Luciano Dias, a Brasilia-based political consultant.
”She was arrogant with Congress for a long time and her economic policies were just wrong,” he said.
Rousseff, a one-time guerrilla fighter who was tortured under the military dictatorship, was picked by charismatic former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to succeed him – becoming Brazil’s first woman president. Rousseff had never held elected office before becoming president and quickly gained a reputation for her prickly leadership style and perceived reticence to play the political game.
Eight years of galloping economic growth under Silva began to flag after she took office in 2011, and she only narrowly won re-election in 2014. Her popularity has plunged in step with the economy, and opinion polls suggest most Brazilians support her ouster, though many have reservations about those in line to replace her.
Temer, the vice president, has been implicated in the Petrobras case and also signed off on the some of the same allegedly illegal fiscal maneuvers Rousseff used.
The second in line to replace Rousseff, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha, has been charged with taking $5 million in bribes in the Petrobras scheme.
Brazil’s lawmakers and other top politicians enjoy special legal protections that effectively largely shield them from prosecution. Around 60 percent of the country’s nearly 600 legislators are facing corruption and other serious charges.
With the country’s leadership besmirched by corruption, calls for general elections have been growing. A Rousseff spokesperson acknowledged that her team was examining the possibility of calling for elections – a move which has no constitutional basis, although it appears to enjoy considerable public support.
Gerivaldo Oliveira, a taxi driver in Brasilia, said he would applaud such an initiative.
”I want to see all the corrupt politicians in jail,” he said. ”Brazil needs a clean slate, otherwise we’re lost.”