Brazil, still reeling under its worst recession since the 1930s, plunged deeper into political chaos on Sunday as the lower house of the Brazilian parliament gave the go-ahead for the impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.
The green light from the Chamber of Deputies came after the move passed the threshold of a two-thirds majority, or 342 lawmakers. The final tally was 367 votes cast in favour of impeachment, versus 137 against, and seven abstentions. Two lawmakers did not show up to vote.
The lawmakers were all given turns to briefly explain their votes.
Those in favour of the impeachment claimed to be standing up against a corrupt government and standing up for the people of Brazil, while the loyalists of the Workers’ Party (PT), to which Rousseff belongs, claimed to be working towards preventing a coup.
The matter will now be sent to the Senate which will open a formal impeachment trial in the coming weeks.
If a simple majority is reached in its first vote, the Senate will take up the measure, and Rousseff will be forced to suspend her presidency. During Rousseff’s suspension, Vice President Michel Temer will serve as acting president, pending her trial. Temer will have to serve out Rousseff’s term until 2018 if she is found guilty.
And if a two-thirds margin is reached in the Senate’s second vote, Rousseff will be removed from office, and Temer will take over the presidency.
But if the impeachment fails to clear the Senate, the president will be reinstated.
Critics of the impeachment process say it has become a referendum on Rousseff’s popularity which sets a worrying precedent for ousting unpopular leaders in the future.
Rousseff, who will be the first Brazilian president impeached for more than three decades, is accused of illegal accounting maneuvers to mask government shortfalls during her 2014 reelection.
Many Brazilians also hold her responsible for the economic mess and a massive corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras, a toxic record that has left her government with 10 per cent approval ratings.
This impeachment battle has divided the the Latin American country of 200 million people more deeply than any other time, ever since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985.
Opinion polls suggest more than 60 percent of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, less than two years after she won a reelection in 2014.
The impeachment will also end 13 years of the left-leaning Workers’ Party rule in the world’s ninth largest economy.
In a last-ditch attempt to raise support, Rousseff released a speech on social media over the weekend, stressing that “the sovereign will of the people is at stake. Social achievements and the rights of Brazilians are at stake.”
Jose Guimaroes, congressional leader of the ruling Workers’ Party believes there is still hope and believes “the Senate will eliminate the attempts of the people involved in the coup.”
Even if the impeachment happens and Temer assumes office, analysts believe there is much to be done. Temer will inherit a country wallowing in its deepest recession in decades and a dysfunctional political scene where Rousseff’s Workers’ Party vows revenge.
“It will not be easy” for Temer, says Andre Cesar, an independent political analyst. “It will be a nightmare.”
As things stand though, Rousseff is almost certain to be forced out from office months before the nation hosts the Olympics.
(With inputs from agencies)