- Lower house of congress voted to impeach Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff
- Ruling party calls on Brazilians to occupy streets as process passes to senate
Brazil’s embattled president Dilma Rousseff has said that she will fight to maintain power despite a devastating impeachment defeat in the lower house.
While the opposition camp celebrated Sunday’s vote and prepared for a new administration under Vice-President Michel Temer, Rouseff said that she was the victim of a “non-traditional coup d’etat”.
“I believe in democracy,” she told reporters. “I will fight, like I have always done in my life.”
She added: “This is not the beginning of the end – it’s the beginning of the fight.”
Rouseff singled out Temer for criticism, saying that he had “openly conspired” against her, and repeated her pledge not to stand down.
“My mandate is not for me, it’s for 54 million who voted for me … this is a fight forBrazil, for democracy,” she said.
But despite Roussef’s defiance, the momentum is overwhelmingly with the opposition, who are poised to give Brazil its first centre-right government in more than 13 years.
The house speaker, Eduardo Cunha – a conservative evangelical who has proved Rousseff’s nemesis – oversaw the passage of the impeachment motion comfortably with 367 votes, 25 more than the necessary two-thirds majority, prompting opposition politicians, many of them draped in the national flag, to burst into the football chant “Eu Sou Brasileiro” (I am Brazilian).
The process now goes to the senate, where only a simple majority is needed to begin deliberations that would force the president to step aside for 180 days until a final verdict is reached.
The government side said supporters should to prepare for the next stage of the impeachment process in the senate.
“The Workers party calls on all men and women committed to democracy to remain mobilised and occupy the streets against this fraudulent impeachment,” said Rui Falcão, the party’s national president.
Polls suggest more than 60% of the public favour the removal of Rousseff, who was once one of the world’s most popular leaders but now suffers approval ratings of just 10% as a result of a dire economic recession, political tumult and the Lava Jato corruption investigation into kickbacks from the state-oil company, Petrobras. Politicians from almost all of the major parties have been implicated, including several senior members of the Workers party.
Temer’s supporters in his Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB) are already anticipating the change ahead.
Moreira Franco, a senior party member, noted on Twitter that Brazil now had a good opportunity for political and economic reform, but he urged the opposition not to become complacent. “We need to maintain a national mobilisation so that the senate hears the noise on the streets,” he tweeted.
Many challenges lie ahead. The vice-president has promised a sound fiscal policy, but this would mean sharp austerity cuts in the midst of an already dire recession. Many of his supporters – especially those up for re-election later this year – will be urging him to maintain public spending.
The bank system, which is staggering under a mountain of non-performing loans, is another major risk that he must handle carefully. Many of these questions relate to how far to the right Temer is willing to move. One indication will be whether he appoints Jair Bolsonaro – a supporter of the former military dictatorship – to his cabinet.
There is also the constant threat posed to politicians of almost all stripes by the Lava Jato investigation. Until now, the opposition has used revelations of corruption to tarnish the government. But many of them are also threatened by accusations of bribery and money laundering. Many would clearly like Temer to weaken the independence of the prosecutors and federal police, which he could do by appointing a sympathetic justice minister, but this would be extremely unpopular with the public, who have come to put more faith in the judiciary than their elected representatives.
A key question in this regard will be the fate of Cunha – who is at the centre of both the Lava Jato probe and the impeachment drive. His supporters are demanding that Temer kill an ethics committee investigation of the house speaker as a reward for pushing through the impeachment vote.
Given the many problems that Brazil faces, Workers party politicians feel they can regain the initiative with a little time out of office.
Lindberg Farias, a Workers party senator from Rio de Janeiro, said it will be difficult to block the first vote in the senate, but there is a chance with the second vote, which needs a two-thirds majority and will take place up to six months after the first.
He expects the senate leader, Renan Calheiros, to drag the process on for as long as possible because he is a rival of Temer’s within the PMDB. The longer it goes on, the more chance he believes the left has of a recovery.
“The public don’t like Temer and Cunha. I think within two months of their administration, opinion will shift against them and people will move to protect Rousseff,” Farias said.
After last night’s crushing defeat, this sounds like wishful thinking. But moods can change quickly. As Rousseff has learned to her cost, public opinion and political loyalties in Brazil are as solid as quicksand.
Dilma Rousseff vows to keep fighting despite impeachment defeat