Brazil crisis: Rousseff loses lower house impeachment vote

Brazil’s lower house has voted to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff over charges of manipulating government accounts.

The “yes” camp comfortably won the required two-thirds majority, after a lengthy session in the capital.

The motion will now go to the upper house, the Senate, which is expected to suspend Ms Rousseff next month while it carries out a formal trial.

She denies tampering with the accounts to help secure her re-election in 2014.

The ruling Workers’ Party has promised to continue its fight to defend her “in the streets and in the Senate”.

Trumpets and vuvuzelas

Ms Rousseff’s opponents secured 367 votes in the lower house – exceeding the 342-vote mark needed to send the motion to the Senate.

The “no” camp secured 167 votes, while seven other deputies abstained. Two deputies were not present during the voting.

Voting began after passionate statements from MPs and party leaders in a session broadcast live on television as well as on large screens in city centres.

Defending Ms Rousseff, Afonso Florence of the Workers’ Party urged MPs to have a “democratic conscience”.

A pro-impeachment MP, Antonio Imbassahy of the PSDB party, told lawmakers to “choose the country that we want from now on”, and said Brazil needed “moral reconstruction.”

If the Senate votes for impeachment, Ms Rousseff will be put on trial in the upper chamber and will be removed from office permanently if found guilty. She has two opportunities to appeal during the whole process.

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Hundreds of thousands of protesters watched the voting marathon on huge TV screens in cities across the country – Ms Rousseff’s supporters wearing red and her opponents wearing the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag.

Some 25,000 protesters from both sides were outside the Congress building – separated by a makeshift 2m (6.5ft) high metal wall, that stretches for 1km (0.6 miles).

The “yes” camp burst into celebrations even before the two-thirds of the votes had been secured.

Brazilian lawmakers cheer in parliament. Photo: 17 April 2016Dilma Rousseff's opponents celebrate in Sao Paulo. Photo: 17 April 2016

The atmosphere has so far been peaceful and almost festive with music, fancy dress and people blowing trumpets and vuvuzelas.

“We fought a lot to sack this corrupt government, which destroyed our industry, jobs and left chaos in all social classes,” Marisa Cardamone, a 75-year-old lawyer, told AFP news agency in the country’s financial centre, Sao Paulo.

“I’m happy because I think Dilma had to go but I’m also both sad that it came to this and also really worried that the next president could be even worse,” Patricia Santos, a 52-year-old small business owner among the demonstrators outside Congress, told the Associated Press news agency.

‘The putschists won’

The president, 68, has vigorously denied any wrongdoing, and on Saturday wrote in one newspaper (in Portuguese) her opponents wanted to “convict an innocent woman and save the corrupt”.

The BBC’s Wyre Davis in Brazil says Ms Rousseff is an unpopular leader in a country facing a severe economic crisis.

But her supporters say many of the congressmen who are sitting in judgement have been accused of crimes too

  • If she is impeached, Vice-President Michel Temer would take over as interim president but he is also facing impeachment proceedings over the same allegations as Ms Rousseff
  • Lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha – second in line to replace her – is being investigated over allegations of taking multi-million-dollar bribes
  • Next in line to replace her is Renan Calheiros, head of the Senate. But he, too, is under investigation in connection with a massive corruption scandal at state-oil company Petrobras

All three are from the PMDB – the largest party in the coalition, which abandoned Ms Rousseff in recent weeks to support the impeachment. They deny the allegations against them.

The Workers’ Party leader in the lower house, Jose Guimaraes, acknowledged “the putschists” had won in the Chamber of Deputies but said the fight would go on in the Senate.

“We don’t back down and we aren’t going to let ourselves be beat by this momentary loss,” he said.

Luciano Dias, a Brasilia-based political consultant, summed up what he saw as Ms Rousseff’s errors in office: “She took too many resources from the private sector, she was arrogant with Congress for a long time and her economic policies were just wrong.”