Brazil’s Senate Begins Debate on Whether to Impeach President Rousseff


After months of tirades, secret maneuvering and legal appeals, Brazil’s Senate began debating on Wednesday whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, suspend her from office and put her on trial.

The debate, followed by a vote as early as Wednesday evening, is a watershed in the power struggle consuming Brazil, a country that experienced a rare stretch of stability over the last two decades as it strengthened its economy and achieved greater prominence on the world stage.

Now, those gains are unraveling. Brazil is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, huge corruption cases across the political spectrum and a bitter feud among its scandal-plagued leaders — just months before the world heads to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics.

Ms. Rousseff, who is accused of manipulating the budget to hide the depths of Brazil’s economic woes and bolster her own re-election prospects, is widely expected to be ousted by the Senate, ending 13 years of political dominance by her leftist Workers’ Party.

If she is suspended and put on trial, she would become the second of Brazil’s four elected presidents to be removed from office since democracy was re-established in the mid-1980s after a long dictatorship.

She already lost a vote last month in the lower house of Congress, which advanced the impeachment proceedings to the Senate. Powerful lawmakers fending off their own graft charges led the effort against her.

“Plainly said, this is the worst crisis in our history, with its combination of economic calamity, discredited politics and the violation of the lowest ethical standards,” Boris Fausto, a Brazilian historian, told reporters this month while summing up the country’s grim mood.

Even many who want Ms. Rousseff ousted are bracing for what comes next. Vice President Michel Temer, the former ally who is poised to take over the government if Ms. Rousseff is suspended, is an unpopular figure as well, with one recent poll finding that only 2 percent of Brazilians would vote for him.

He also faces his own legal problems. An electoral court ordered him this month to pay a fine for violating campaign financing limits. The ruling could make him ineligible to run for elected office for eight years, creating an unusual situation in which a politician barred from campaigning ends up running the country.

“Temer is what we’ve got,” Mr. Fausto said. “I hope he’ll be up to the difficult and often highly unpopular tasks ahead of him.”

Fixing the economy, which may require adopting unpopular austerity measures, is just one of the challenges facing Mr. Temer, 75, a lawyer and career politician who kept a low profile as vice president.

Brazil is grappling simultaneously with the Zika epidemic, one of its worst health crises in decades; the crash of its oil industry as Petrobras, the national oil company, faces low energy prices and an enormous graft scandal; and doubts over the nation’s preparations for the Olympics in August.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Simon Romero