- Lower house decision on impeachment may seal Rousseff's future
- With 333 votes called, opposition had 255 in its favor
The drive to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is gathering momentum as opposition lawmakers hang onto a clear lead in a Sunday vote that has gripped the nation and brought supporters from both camps pouring out into the streets.
With 333 votes called, the opposition had garnered 255 votes in favor of impeachment. It needs at least 342 votes, or the two-thirds majority among 513 deputies, to send the motion to the Senate. Most analysts agree that if Rousseff were to lose Sunday, it would be very difficult for her to avoid being ousted in the Senate.
Tens of thousands of the president’s supporters and detractors gathered to stage protests throughout the nation, with the two sides in the capital Brasilia separated by a metal barrier designed to prevent confrontations. Television images showed some backers of the president weeping, while newspaper Folha de S. Paulo published an image of Vice President Michel Temer smiling as he watched the voting from home.
"This obviously is quite a dramatic event," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "We’re going through a serious economic crisis, as well as an ethical crisis."
Financial markets have surged in recent weeks on the prospect that Temer, 75, would take over the top job and revive the economy. An exchange-traded fund of Brazilian stocks rose 2.2 percent in Tokyo at 9:28 p.m. Sao Paulo time, or 9:28 a.m. in Tokyo, on bets Brazil’s opposition would prevail in voting.
The turmoil that has engulfed Brazil over the past two years came to a head last week when Rousseff accused Temer of plotting to overthrow her. While Sunday’s vote is just one step in the impeachment process, it’s the most important one so far for a country traumatized by a savage recession and a wave of corruption scandals. Ultimately, it may determine whether 13 years of rule by the leftist Workers’ Party come to an end, to make way for the more business-friendly Temer.
Whoever governs Brazil after the impeachment process is done will face the daunting task of uniting a deeply divided nation, pulling the economy out of recession and rebuilding trust in public institutions. Around 150 legislators in the lower house are under investigation for alleged wrongdoing, according to Congresso em Foco, a Brasilia-based publication specializing in legislative affairs.
The question will be whether Temer or Rousseff has the mandate to succeed. The president lost most of her allies in recent weeks and leading members of Temer’s party are also being investigated in relation to the scheme of kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras.
Pro- and anti-impeachment protesters demonstrated peacefully Sunday night. Critics of the administration in downtown Sao Paulo shouted "Down with the Workers’ Party" as they watched the congressional proceedings on a huge screen set up by the state federation of industries, a powerful business group.
"My life has gotten worse and it’s the Workers’ Party fault," Paulo Furegartti, 61, said at a protest in downtown Sao Paulo.
Protesting alongside other Brazilians who oppose impeachment, Ricardo Ferreira Machado, a 27-year-old science teacher whose parents and grandparents were illiterate, highlighted government scholarships and other welfare programs that allowed him to graduate from college and study for his doctorate.
"I’m here to defend democracy and the 54 million Brazilians who voted for Dilma," Machado said in Brasilia. "She didn’t commit any crimes."
Opposition parties say Rousseff should be impeached because she bypassed Congress to illegally mask a budget deficit. She denies any wrongdoing.
Rousseff, 68, released a video on social media over the weekend warning that democracy and social welfare programs were at risk if she were to be ousted. She scrapped plans to air the message in a televised address on Friday night as opposition parties filed legal measures to block her.
“What’s at stake is respect for the sovereign will of the people. What’s at stake are social achievements and Brazilians’ rights,” Rousseff said in the seven-minute video.
Similar warnings during her 2014 campaign helped Rousseff secure re-election. Once in office, she began cutting labor and pension benefits to shrink the budget gap, a move that pushed her approval ratings to a record low.
In a last-ditch move to persuade undecided lawmakers, Rousseff canceled her participation in pro-government protests on Saturday to meet with lawmakers and governors. She is watching the vote from her residence in Brasilia.