Brazilian senators voted Thursday to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial over allegations she hid federal budget troubles while campaigning for reelection two years ago.
The 55-22 vote came after a nearly 20-hour debate. The chamber required a simple majority of all senators present to approve the impeachment measure.
The lower house of Brazil’s Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to impeach Rousseff last month. Rousseff, the leader of the center-left Workers Party, will now step down from her post as legislators prepare an impeachment trial against her that could last six months. Michel Temer, the vice president and and a member of the country's largest political party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, will assume office.
Rousseff had vowed to fight to “the last minute,” and twice asked the country’s Supreme Court to intervene and stop the proceedings, but the justices refused. Rousseff has called impeachment proceedings a “coup” to remove her from power. Rousseff, who is halfway through her second term, is the first female president of Brazil.
The vote was the latest development in a political saga that has captivated Latin America’s most populous nation this spring. Rousseff does not face corruption charges, but the lawmakers who led the effort to remove her she used accounting practices in 2014 to conceal a growing budget deficit. Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the practices her government employed are widely used. Rousseff’s opponents say the leader committed a “crime of responsibility,” an impeachable action under the Brazilian constitution.
Her opponents have also seized on her party’s involvement in the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history. Petrobras, the state-run oil firm, is under investigation for allowing a secret, decade-long operation involving bribes and kickbacks among company executives, politicians, and others. Rousseff is not being investigated in the scheme, but it had occurred while she served on Petrobras’s board of directors. Rousseff’s political mentor and former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as “Lula,” and members of her party have been implicated.
At the time of this week’s vote, Rousseff’s approval ratings were at 10 percent.
Rousseff’s supporters have pointed out that many politicians who want her gone are dealing with corruption charges. Temer has been accused of involvement in an illegal ethanol-buying scheme. Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house, faces charges in the Petrobras scandal. More than half of the members of a congressional impeachment committee are under investigation for corruption or other serious crimes. Twenty-four of 81 senators are being investigated for alleged corruption, 14 of them in the Petrobras scheme, according to The Guardian, which cites the parliamentary watchdog newspaper Congresso em Foco.
The impeachment battle has coincided with the country’s worst recession in decades, a growing outbreak of the Zika virus, and preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio, which are three months away.