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Brazil’s Senate Votes to Impeach President Dilma Rousseff: What Happens Now?

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Brazil’s senate has overwhelmingly decided to suspend President Dilma Rousseff from office. By 55 votes to 22, the upper house voted early Thursday morning she should face an impeachment trial on charges of budget irregularities.

Rousseff’s once soaring approval rating has dropped to single digits amid a dire recession and political crisis brought on by a huge government corruption scandal. Her opponents blame her for both while her backers say she is facing an illegal coup, but with the weight of congress against her, few expect her to return to the presidency. What happens now?

Rousseff is suspended
The former leftist guerilla has pledged not to give up the fight to remain in office. But early today she is expected to be officially informed of the decision to suspend her for up to 180 days. She will give a televised statement at 10am (9am ET) in which she will say she believes herself to be the “victim of a coup” before walking down the front ramp of the presidential palace, the Planalto, in an act of defiance, aides told reporters. She will then return to her official residence, the Palácio da Alvorada, where she will be allowed to stay on a reduced salary until the senate votes on her impeachment.

The vice-president takes over
Michel Temer, 75, the vice-president and former coalition partner whom Rousseff has accused of plotting her downfall, is expected to arrive at the Planalto at 3pm (2pm ET) to assume his role as acting president. Unlike Rousseff, he is not expected to use the front entrance or talk to the press. He will begin to appoint ministers to his government, after a Supreme Court justice yesterday denied an application by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party to refuse him that right while she is suspended. Of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB), his policy agenda is expected to differ from that of his predecessor, with whom he was elected in 2014.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff talks with Vice President Michel Temer at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, March 2, 2016.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff talks with Vice President Michel Temer at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, March 2, 2016.Eraldo Peres—AP

The impeachment trial begins
Rousseff will still technically be president but few observers believe she has any chance of returning to power. In the coming weeks, a senate committee will produce an indictment on the charges that she broke fiscal responsibility laws by using state bank funds to cover a budget shortfall. The trial could take six months. If it is endorsed by two-thirds of the senate in a vote, Rousseff will lose the presidency and be banned from public office for eight years. This morning there were 55 votes in favor, the exact number the pro-impeachment parties will eventually need to oust her. If she is impeached, Temer will assume the presidency until the next election in 2018.

Brazil’s giant corruption probe goes on
Operation Car Wash, the multibillion-dollar corruption investigation focused on the state oil giant Petrobras, will continue to play out. The probe has already ensnared dozens of leading politicians, including former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; recently suspended house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who led the charge to impeach Rousseff; the leader of the senate, Renan Calheiros; and former president and current senator Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned when facing impeachment proceedings for corruption in 1992. Last week, Rousseff — heretofore not directly linked to the Petrobras probe — was herself accused of obstructing justice by the country’s prosecutor general, meaning she could face jail.

The markets react
International markets have reacted strongly to the likelihood of impeachment, with the Real appreciating nearly 15 percent this calendar year, fueled by the belief that a Temer government is likely to pursue less interventionist economic policies. Temer is reported to have picked Henrique Meirelles, a former central bank president, to be finance minister and has pledged an austerity program. But the challenges are steep. The economy contracted by 3.8 percent in 2015, its worst performance in 25 years, and the country is predicted to suffer its worst recession since 1901.

Demonstrators who support Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment react in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016.
Demonstrators who support Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment react in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016.Paulo Whitaker—Reuters

The public’s rage continues to boil
Widespread anger against politicians, ignited by the economic crisis and Petrobras scandal, may have been politically fatal for Rousseff, but may also prove to be a challenge for Temer to handle once he assumes the presidency. Polls show a majority of Brazilians want the 75-year-old, who was ordered to pay a fine for violating campaign financing limits this month and whose party is implicated in the Petrobras scandal, impeached as well as Rousseff. As few as 2 percent would vote for him in an election.

The Olympic Games loom
In the midst of the unprecedented political crisis, Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympics Games from August 5 to 21. Olympic infrastructure projects have begun to be caught up in the Petrobras scandal and the Rio state government is facing its own budget crisis in the face of low oil prices, and is struggling to pay pensions and employees. The Games have also faced major cutbacks amid poor ticket sales but officials insist the mega event will be unaffected by the turmoil in Brasilia.

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