Brazilian senators have voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff from office. The lawmakers are preparing to try her on charges of manipulating the national budget to boost her 2014 re-election campaign.
The 68-year-old leftist accused her opponents of sabotaging her government, saying “respect for democracy” and the country’s constitution were at stake.
Rousseff’s vice president, Michel Temer, who has turned against her, will take over the presidency in the interim, less than three months before the 2016 Summer Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro. He faces the country’s worst recession in decades, even as Brazil battles a deadly outbreak of the zika mosquito virus.
Following a nearly 22-hour debate in the Senate, a simple majority was all that was needed to open a trial for Rousseff. The vote against her was 55-22.
She is accused of using borrowed money from state banks to cover budget deficits and pay for social programs, to make Brazil’s flagging economy look better than it was.
It is not clear how many of the senators who voted to put her on trial would also vote to convict her in what could be a six-month proceeding. A two-thirds majority would be needed to remove Rousseff permanently from office.
“As she approached the election in 2014, it was pretty clear that the economy was not doing as well as she hoped, and so she engaged in some creative accounting to try and make the situation look better,” Latin American specialist Sean Burgess of the Australian National University told VOA.
It is still questionable, Burgess said, whether or not her actions were illegal, and the push for impeachment may be fueled by other lawmakers’ desires to deflect attention from themselves.
“When you look at the number of individuals in Congress who are facing trial or conviction for serious crimes … one way to read this whole process is an attempt by these individuals to create so much mud and so much storm that the prosecutors never get the time to get around to dealing with them,” he said. “It’s a diversionary tactic by a lot of these people to try and protect themselves.”
Brazilian police and supporters of the embattled president faced off Wednesday in front of the Senate before the vote on whether to proceed with a trial after the lower chamber of the Brazilian Congress impeached her last month.
Police needed to use pepper spray to hold back Rousseff supporters who had been throwing flares at them. A metal fence was erected to separate the pro-Rousseff crowd from about 6,000 impeachment backers.
Several protesters needed to be carted away by rescue workers after inhaling pepper spray fumes. One person was arrested for inciting violence.
Brazil’s supreme court rejected a last-minute appeal by Rousseff to stop the Senate impeachment process against her, clearing the way for debate.
Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerrilla, tortured under the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970’s, said her political opponents, including Temer, who also is also under investigation for corruption, are attempting a coup.