Brazil's lower house green-lights presidential impeachment
BRASILIA, April 17 (Xinhua) -- The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, or the lower house of parliament, voted in favor of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff here on Sunday.
The 367-146 vote surpassed the two-thirds majority needed to hand the impeachment to the Senate, which will open a formal impeachment trial against Rousseff in the coming weeks.
In a spirited exchange on the floor of the Chamber, lawmakers took turns to briefly explain their votes.
While Rousseff's Workers Party loyalists thundered that they were fighting to prevent a coup, it soon became apparent that the result was swinging against Rousseff.
The president watched the vote from the Alvorada Palace, surrounded by allies, including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, her chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, and Interior Minister Ricardo Berzoini.
Opponents in various parties said they were standing up for the people, their families, "even God," in removing "a corrupt force from government."
While certain parties were divided, even lawmakers from left-leaning parties such as the socialist Democratic Labor Party voted against Rousseff, although the party officially shares an ideological platform with the Workers Party.
Almost all representatives voting for the impeachment mentioned the corruption uncovered in the Rousseff administration, even though the impeachment request has nothing to do with corruption, as Rousseff has never been accused of that.
For their part, government members have repeatedly said that more corruption is being uncovered now simply because the current government did not try to block any attempts of investigation, unlike the country's former administrations.
The impeachment request is based on accusation that Rousseff committed a crime of fiscal responsibility when she resorted to fiscal maneuvers to pay social programs benefits and manipulated government accounts to hide the depth of Brazil's recession during her 2014 re-election.
Her defense says the decrees Rousseff signed for fiscal maneuvers did not constitute a crime of fiscal responsibility under the Brazilian law, thus any attempt of impeachment is in fact a coup attempt.
The voting may open a dangerous precedent for the Brazilian democracy, as the impeachment was accepted even though there are no clear, unquestionable criminal accusations against the president, Rousseff's defenders said.
Now the Senate is in charge of the matter. In a simple voting, it will decide whether to accept the case.
If the Senate decides not to take the case, the process is shelved. If it votes to accept the case, with 41 votes needed out of a total of 81, the president will then be temporarily removed from office, and Vice President Michel Temer will take her place during the vacancy.
Then it will take 180 days to prepare for the final trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority, or 54 out of 81 votes, will be needed to impeach the president.
It remains unknown whether the Senate will rush things, as Head of Senate Renan Calheiros, though affiliated to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party which voted largely for the impeachment at the Chamber, has expressed his opposition to the impeachment.
In addition, Temer's security in an eventual presidency is also at stake as he signed decrees for fiscal maneuvers just as Rousseff did and could be impeached for the same reason.
Several politicians have said that, if Temer becomes president, they will pursue his impeachment as soon as he takes office.
However, the man in charge of accepting impeachment requests and starting processes of this kind is the head of the Chamber Eduardo Cunha, whose hostility towards Rousseff has played a decisive role in the impeachment.
Cunha used to oppose impeachment against Rousseff, but decided to start such a process after Rousseff's party refused to help him get away with an inquiry in the Ethics Committee.
Cunha was accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes through Petrobras contracts, having undeclared Swiss accounts loaded with a fortune, and lying about having any accounts abroad.