Brazilians on edge as Congressional vote moves Rousseff closer to impeachment

Brazilians on Monday (April 18) said they were anxious to move beyond a deepening political crisis, the day after leftist President Dilma Rousseff suffered a humiliating loss when the lower house of Congress voted to impeach her on Sunday (April 17).

In a vote late on Sunday that sparked jubilation among Rousseff’s foes, the opposition comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority needed to send the leftist president for trial in the Senate on charges she manipulated budget accounts to boost her reelection in 2014.

Surveys of lawmakers published by newspapers suggest that the opposition has the votes it needs to win a simple majority in the Senate next month to open a trial against Rousseff, at which point she would be suspended from her post.

She would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer as acting president and he would serve out Rousseff’s term until 2018 if she is found guilty.

The expanse lawns outside Congress and in front of the Planalto Presidential Palace were decidedly quieter on Monday morning compared to Sunday night when opposing groups of demonstrators, both those opposed to and those in favour of the president, gathered here as the lower house cast their votes.

Newspaper headlines ran with the news that the impeachment proceedings would now move on to the Senate.

In Sao Paulo, Georger Luca told Reuters he hoped the process would move quickly.

“It is the most justified thing possible because we are going through a really tough time. The president has to take responsibility, leave and let someone else come in. I hope it happens as quickly as possible, the vote (in the Senate), this process, because this is very embarrassing for our country. A lot of lies and a lot of corruption,” Luca said.

Many residents in Rio de Janeiro echoed his sentiments, saying it was time for Rousseff to step aside.

“Education is failing. There’s no investment in the hospitals. There are strikes everywhere; the police on strike, doctors on strike, lawyers on strike. So, something needed to be done, the time had come. If we just kept waiting longer, the situation would have only worsened, so something needed to be done quickly. Brazil can’t survive just off of the Olympics and the World Cup,” Alexandre Ferreira, who works a news-stand, said.

The impeachment battle has paralysed the government at a time when the country is preparing to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August and is also battling an epidemic of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in newborns.

“I think it is good. It was time to do something. We will see if things get better because it’s been tough. The country is declining big time, so it was time for impeachment and to get better people to run the country,” added Jose Airos who sells coconut water in Rio.

But Rousseff’s government has indicated it has no intention to simply hand over the reins of the country.

The government has said it will fight on several fronts by challenging the vote in the Supreme Court, organizing street protests against impeachment and seeking to secure the votes in Senate to block a trial.

The impeachment battle, waged during Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s, has divided the country of 200 million people more deeply than at any time since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985.

It has also sparked a bitter battle between Rousseff, a 68-year-old former Communist guerrilla, and Temer, 75, that could destabilize any future government and plunge Brazil into months of uncertainty.

Despite anger at rising unemployment, Rousseff’s Workers Party can still rely on support among millions of working-class Brazilians, who credit its welfare programs with pulling their families out of poverty during the past decade.

The final tally in the House vote was 367 in favour of impeachment, versus 137 against, and seven abstentions. Two lawmakers did not show up to vote.