Impeaching a Brazilian President Is Complicated: a Quick Guide

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Dilma Rousseff.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Brazil’s impeachment campaign is gaining speed as a lower house committee prepares a recommendation on whether to oust President Dilma Rousseff.

Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, greets supporters at a rally in Sao Paulo, on March 4.
Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, greets supporters at a rally in Sao Paulo, on March 4.
Photographer: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

Markets have rallied on hopes that Rousseff’s removal would speed up a resolution to the political stalemate that has paralyzed the nation. But impeaching a president in Brazil is a lengthy and legally complex process that involves several votes in Congress, and a potential battle in the Supreme Court. Bottom line -- it may take months.

This is how impeachment may unfold:

* Brazil Supreme Court published in March a list of procedures it requires Congress to follow in order to impeach the president. It decided, among other things, that all votes in congress must be public. The Justices also confirmed their earlier decision to give the Senate the final word on whether to start official impeachment hearings.

* Sixty-five lawmakers representing all parties in the lower house now sit on a committee that will recommend whether to impeach Rousseff. The president has 10 sessions to defend herself before the committee, which then has at least five sessions to make a recommendation. That process could take about a month, according to house speaker Eduardo Cunha.

* The committee’s recommendation goes to the house floor for a vote. If impeachment is backed by two-thirds of the house, or 342 lawmakers, the accusation goes to a special committee in the Senate to prepare a report accepting or rejecting it. The Senate must vote on this report and can approve it or reject it by simple majority of 81 votes. If senators approve the accusation, official impeachment hearings will then start at the Senate to vote whether to impeach the president.

* As deliberations in the Senate start, President Rousseff is temporarily removed from office and Vice President Michel Temer steps in. The Senate needs support from two-thirds of its 81 members to impeach the president and terminate her mandate. She would be banned from public office for eight years.

* If discussions in the Senate last more than 180 days without a decision, the president resumes office.

* In a separate process, Brazil’s top electoral court TSE may decide to oust Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer if it finds that illegal funds from Petrobras were funneled into their re-election campaign. The TSE is currently examining a case against Rousseff presented by the PSDB opposition party and a decision could happen during the first half of the year, according to one of the court’s Justices. 

* If the TSE decides to annul the election of Rousseff and Temer by December, new general elections must be scheduled in 90 days. If that decision is made in 2017, the new president is elected by Congress in 30 days. In any case, the government may appeal the TSE decision in the Supreme Court.

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