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Brazil's impeachment: what happened and what's next?

Monday, April 18, 2016 - 11:10

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With Sunday's vote in the lower house of Congress to authorize the Senate to open an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's political crisis enters ever deeper crisis.

[BRASÍLIA] With Sunday's vote in the lower house of Congress to authorize the Senate to open an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's political crisis enters ever deeper crisis.

Here's a snapshot of how Latin America's biggest country got there - and what's next.

On December 2, controversial lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha formally opened the impeachment saga by accepting a petition from a group of lawyers.

They accused Ms Rousseff of having illegally juggled accounts and taking loans in order to mask the depth of government shortfalls during her 2014 re-election.

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Ironically, many politicians, including Mr Cunha, are snared in separate criminal corruption probes linked to a vast embezzlement scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

Ms Rousseff denied the charges and described the impeachment drive as a "coup," since she is elected.

Against a backdrop of huge pro- and anti-Rousseff street protests, Brazil's solicitor general, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, made final arguments in the president's defense on April 4.

He told deputies on a special committee that the charges do not amount to impeachable offenses and that the process is fueled by Mr Cunha's "desire for revenge."

Ms Rousseff also enlisted her predecessor and mentor, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, to spearhead the intense lobbying campaign for votes in the lower house. The opposition needed 342 out of the 513 votes, or two thirds on Sunday, normally a tall order in the fractious legislature.

But Mr Lula's political comeback hit a major snag when the Supreme Court suspended his appointment as a minister after accusations that he was taking the post to gain legal immunity from corruption charges.

In the end, Ms Rousseff's last-ditch fight turned into a desperate, partisan struggle where she accused her vice president, Michel Temer, and Mr Cunha of conspiring against her.

Ms Rousseff had hoped to kill impeachment in the lower house. Now that she has lost that vote, the case goes to the Senate.

Even now, not all is lost for the country's first woman president, but analysts see her chances of staging a comeback shrinking fast.

The Senate will meet, probably in May, to vote whether a trial should open. A simple majority vote will be enough and in that case Ms Rousseff would have to step down for an 180 day period while the trial gets under way.

To impeach, the Senate would later have to vote by a two thirds majority. If not, Ms Rousseff would return to office.

Current estimates of voting intentions are that the Senate will follow the lower house's lead and oust Ms Rousseff, making her the second Brazilian president to be impeached in two decades.

Mr Temer would take over as soon as the 180 day period began - and would stay in power until scheduled elections in 2018 if the impeachment went through.

If the Senate launches an impeachment trial, it could be under way as Brazil hosts the Olympic Games in Rio from August 5 to 21. Angry street protests could heat up, further tarnishing Brazil's international reputation.

Mr Temer may take power, but is embroiled in a case at the country's electoral court that could eventually see him, along with Ms Rousseff, being forced to step aside for new elections.

In addition, pro-Rousseff supporters have filed to start impeachment proceedings against Mr Temer.

And while the political paralysis in Brasilia deepens, nothing is being done to address Brazil's tough recession.

AFP

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