Sunday 21 January 2018

Brazil senate vote suspends Rousseff and puts her on trial

Brazil's President Dilma Roussef
Brazil's President Dilma Roussef

Donna Bowater in Brasília

The momentous vote in Brazil's senate has placed President Dilma Rousseff on trial and suspended her from office for 180 days.

But it also showed how the former Marxist guerrilla, who became Brazil's first female leader, is losing her struggle for political survival.

Her opponents needed only a simple majority of the 81 members of the senate to force her to stand aside and go on trial for allegedly cooking the government's books.

Yet of the 77 senators present, 55 voted in favour of the impeachment process.

The result indicates that when the trial is over and it comes to a final vote on whether to remove Ms Rousseff - which would require the support of two-thirds of the senate - her chances of holding on are slim.

"The votes on the senate floor shows Dilma's comeback is practically impossible," said Juliano Griebeler, a political analyst at Barral M Jorge consultancy in Brasília.


"The opposition already has the two-thirds necessary to guarantee the judgment and this scenario will be difficult to reverse."

Ms Rousseff has now been reduced to a president exiled in her own country.

While she is tried, she will remain in her residence, the Alvorada palace, and will retain a staff and an official plane.

But for the six months in which her trial is heard by the senate, Vice-President Michel Temer will be Brazil's interim president.

Mr Temer and his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) left Ms Rousseff's governing coalition earlier this year as he set out his claim to the presidency.

With the impeachment process casting a shadow over the country, Mr Temer will try to offer some stability for Brazil in the midst of a protracted recession and political crisis.

Senator Romero Jucá, who is expected to be named among Mr Temer's cabinet, said: "The PMDB and other parties saw that it wasn't necessary to wait for the Titanic to hit the iceberg and thousands of people to die.

"It was necessary to change the ship's route. And to change the route of the ship, you have to change the captain. The feeling of the majority is a feeling of hope, of a new way."

Mr Temer will be able to form a majority government and is now finalising his ministerial appointments. He is understood to be planning to reduce the number of ministries.

One of the most pressing issues he will need to address is the economy. Mr Temer will probably want a vote on new fiscal targets within a week.

Mr Temer is seen as more business-friendly than Ms Rousseff and the markets are expected to react favourably to his impending leadership.

Yet Brazil's economy is forecast to shrink by 4pc this year while unemployment has already reached double figures.


Francisco Lopreato, an economics professor at Unicamp, told a Brazilian newspaper: "The new government can enjoy a honeymoon period to begin with, but I believe that if the focus of policies is only austerity, it will encounter problems going forward."

Meanwhile, Ms Rousseff remained defiant in the face of the senate impeachment vote, saying, "Never will I stop fighting."

She has appeared publicly for the first time since the senate vote, calling the process "fraudulent" and "a coup."

She says it has been cooked up by opponents eager to snatch power and roll back social programmes.

Ms Rousseff, who was tortured under the country's dictatorship, has frequently argued she had not been charged with a crime and previous presidents did similar things.

Irish Independent

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