Brazilian lawmakers vote on Rousseff impeachment

BRASMLIA: Brazilian lawmakers voted Sunday on whether President Dilma Rousseff should face impeachment trial in a tense, at times circus-like showdown watched live by millions around the deeply divided country.

Months of rancorous debate that has seen Rousseff’s ruling coalition collapse and prompted huge street demonstrations came to a head in the capital Brasilia, where the lower house of Congress was deciding whether to authorize an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Deputies rose one by one to announce their vote, greeted by cheers and sometimes jeering from the rest of the chamber.

The vote followed hours of debate regularly interrupted by chaotic scenes of deputies leading allies in patriotic anthems or singing parodies about Rousseff. Others chanted, waved large flags and one deputy even fired off a confetti cannon.

Most experts predicted that deputies would reach the 342 votes, or two thirds majority, needed to approve sending Rousseff to the Senate.

Brazil’s first female president, a leftist, is accused of illegal government accounting tricks but, more broadly, is blamed for the country’s worst recession in decades and galloping corruption.

The whole procedure was being aired live on television to the country of 204 million, the biggest in Latin America, and also on screens erected in city squares.

Voting against impeachment, Henrique Fontana, from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, said he was “for democracy and against the coup.”

But opposition deputy Darcisio Perondi cast a vote to oust Rousseff, declaring himself “for a decent government, and above all for hope for

Brazilians.”

Protests peaceful so far

In Brasilia, about 18,000 pro-impeachment demonstrators massed outside Congress, according to a police count. About half that number turned out on the pro-Rousseff side, separated by a metal fence.

In Rio de Janeiro, which is scrambling to organize the Olympics this

August, about 3,000 people each from the two sides demonstrated at separate time slots next to Copacabana beach.

So far, the atmosphere on the streets was peaceful, even festive, with a funk band singing in Rio and protesters blowing trumpets and vuvuzelas, as if at a football game, in Brasilia.

In Sao Paulo, the financial center, thousands of pro-impeachment supporters thronged the central Paulista Avenue, many of them in the country’s green and yellow national football shirts.

In Brasilia, psychologist Eric Gamaliel, 29, said he’d joined pro-Rousseff protesters because impeachment would mean “Brazil loses a lot. The world will lose a lot. It will be a step backwards.”

But farmer Silmar Borazio, 50, who made a 20-hour journey to the capital with pro-impeachment supporters, said Brazil needs change.

“The first thing that needs to happen is for Dilma to leave. We are tired of producing revenue and seeing that in the end nothing improves in the country and it gets stolen,” he said.

Senate could vote in May

Rousseff, 68, 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 percent approval ratings.

The president and her allies lobbied frantically in a last-minute effort to turn a tide that appeared to be going against Rousseff. Her mentor, the fiery ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, flew back from his home in Sao Paulo to join the final assault.

If she could prevent the opposition reaching 342 votes Sunday, she would escape, even though opposition leaders warned they would quickly launch a new impeachment attempt.

In case of impeachment being authorized Sunday, the Senate would vote, probably in May, on whether to open a trial. In case of a yes vote there, which experts also consider likely, Rousseff would step down for 180 days.

During this period she’d be replaced by her vice president Michel Temer, who has emerged as a leader of the impeachment drive. If the Senate then ended the trial with a two-thirds majority in favor of ejecting her, Rousseff would have to leave and Temer would stay on until elections in 2018.

Sylvio Costa, who heads the specialist politics website Congresso en Foco, told AFP that Rousseff was nearly sure to go, but that more trouble lies ahead.

“Whoever loses will keep protesting in the streets,” he said. “What’s certain is that the crisis will not end today.” AFP