Impeachment Decision Delayed as Brazil Legal Debate Heats Up

  • Top court injuction blocks `coup' attempt, Rousseff party says
  • Lawyers will re-submit request this week to oust president

Brazil’s lower house chief suspended a decision whether to start impeachment proceedings as the Supreme Court questioned his guidelines for ousting a president.

Two Supreme Court justices on Tuesday issued separate injunctions against impeachment procedures laid out by lower house President Eduardo Cunha. Justice Teori Zavascki said Cunha couldn’t singlehandedly establish guidelines for Congress to remove the president from office, which is a constitutional matter. A key issue at stake is how the opposition can start impeachment proceeding even if Cunha shelves its request.

Before the injunction, Cunha was expected to decide as early as Tuesday whether to accept an impeachment request. He told reporters later on Tuesday he would appeal the Supreme Court injunctions.

The latest wrangling over procedural issues renews uncertainty over how and when the lower house will decide on impeachment requests against President Dilma Rousseff. Her Workers’ Party celebrated the injunction, saying it stops a “coup” attempt against Rousseff.

"It’s a partial victory for the government because it raises some legal and procedural issues," said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia. "It may throw the opposition off for a bit, but doesn’t change the essence of what’s at stake."

Real, Ibovespa

The real on Tuesday posted the biggest slump among emerging-market currencies on investor concern that Brazil’s political turmoil could exacerbate the recession and cause fiscal accounts to deteriorate further. The Ibovespa stock exchange index led global declines.

Opposition parties will study the Supreme Court justices’ decisions and lawyers will file a new impeachment request by Friday, arguing Rousseff continued to break fiscal laws during her second mandate, said Jose Mendonca Filho, lower house leader for the opposition’s Democrats party.

The current impeachment request backed by the opposition says that Rousseff should be held responsible for doctoring fiscal accounts last year and breaking campaign finance laws. She won re-election in October 2014.

The government denies wrongdoing. Rousseff won a democratic election and has the right to finish her term, Ernesto Samper, secretary general of the Union of the South American States, said in Brasilia on Tuesday.

Cunha said last week that alleged misdeeds during Rousseff’s first term didn’t provide enough justification to remove her from office, given the Constitution says a president can only be tried for a crime committed in the current mandate. He said he had rejected five impeachment requests on Tuesday and only has two or three left to consider.

Impeachment Steps

Mendonca Filho said the opposition still expects Cunha to open impeachment proceedings, which is a lengthy process involving several votes in both houses of Congress. Lucas de Aragao, an analyst at Arko Advice, said Zavascki’s injunction will delay rather than scuttle the impeachment process.

If Cunha opens impeachment proceedings, a special committee made up of all political parties would then meet and issue a recommendation whether hearings should start.

The lower house then votes on the committee’s report. If two-thirds of the deputies back impeachment, hearings would begin in the Senate. In that case, Rousseff would have to temporarily step down and hand over the reins to Vice President Michel Temer. He would remain in power if the Senate impeaches Rousseff.

Cunha himself is at the center of a corruption scandal that dominated Brazilian media reports over the weekend. He allegedly used bank accounts in Switzerland to receive kickbacks from a Petrobras contract in Africa, Folha de S. Paulo, Estadao and O Globo reported Saturday. Cunha has denied wrongdoing.

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