BRASILIA: Brazil woke on Monday to deep political crisis after lawmakers authorised impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, sparking claims that democracy was under threat in Latin America’s biggest country.
Opposition deputies in the lower house of Congress needed 342 of the 513 votes, or a two thirds majority, to send Rousseff to the Senate, which will now decide whether to open a trial. They got there near midnight yesterday after five hours of voting.
Wild cheering and a burst of confetti erupted from opposition ranks at the 342nd vote, countered by furious jeering from Rousseff allies in a snapshot of the bitter mood consuming Brazil just four months before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympics.
Presidential chief of staff Jacques Wagner accused deputies of voting for impeachment without proving that the leftist president, who is accused of illegally manipulating budget figures, had committed a serious crime. “In this way, the Chamber of Deputies is threatening to interrupt 30 years of democracy in the country,” he said, referring to the end of a military dictatorship in 1985. “It was a coup against democracy,” Rousseff’s attorney general, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, said.
Cardozo said that Rousseff — who was imprisoned and tortured under military rule in the 1970s — would give her first public reaction today.
There was expected to be a euphoric reaction from the financial markets which have been betting heavily on a Rousseff exit and the advent of a more business-friendly government to kickstart Brazil’s flailing economy.
Outside Congress, where tens of thousands of people were watching giant TV screens, the split was echoed on a mass scale — with opposition supporters partying and Rousseff loyalists in despair.
“I am happy, happy, happy. I spent a year demonstrating in hope that Dilma would be brought down,” said retiree Maristela de Melo, 63. But Rousseff supporter Mariana Santos, 23, burst into tears, saying the vote was “a disgrace for our country.”
Several thousand police stood by and the rival camps were separated by a long metal wall.
If, as many expect, the Senate goes on to impeach the leftist president, Vice President Michel Temer — who abandoned Rousseff to become a key opponent — will assume power.