Brazil Impeachment Battle Heats Up Before Rousseff Flies to U.S.

  • Uncertain whether impeachment possible for acts in prior term
  • Push to oust president "violation of democracy," lawmaker says

The debate over President Dilma Rousseff’s political survival intensified as lawmakers for the second time this month debated impeachment, clashing over the rules of a process that hasn’t been carried out in Brazil since 1992.

Lawmakers disagreed Thursday whether Rousseff can be impeached for misdeeds allegedly carried out in her previous term. Lower house President Eduardo Cunha said he wouldn’t turn down an impeachment request based on events that occurred during her first four years in office. 

Congressman Wadih Damous, a member of the ruling Workers’ Party, said that would be unconstitutional. An impeachment of Rousseff on such grounds would be "a major violation of democracy," he said during the discussion on the house floor.

Opposition leaders have filed a request with Cunha to impeach Rousseff based on charges she doctored fiscal accounts, broke campaign finance laws and allowed state-run oil company Petrobras to incur losses from corruption during her first term. Rousseff and her political party deny the allegations.

Impeachment Procedure

Cunha, a Rousseff critic, hasn’t yet indicated whether he will accept the impeachment request, but said lawmakers can demand he set a date to decide. If he accepts the request, the lower house would create a committee to study the call for impeachment and whether it matters when a misdeed was committed.

The committee would then have to send a report with its recommendations to the lower house. At least 342 out of 513 legislators would have to vote for impeachment hearings to begin before the case goes to the Senate or Supreme Court, depending on the charges.

Rousseff has likened the opposition’s attempts to remove her from office to a modern-day coup d’etat. The president on Thursday is scheduled to fly to New York where she will speak before the United Nations General Assembly.

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