Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff vowed on Monday to fight impeachment tooth-and-nail in the Senate after a heavy defeat in the lower house of Congress raised the likelihood of an end to 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America’s largest economy.
In a raucous vote late on Sunday that sparked jubilation among Rousseff’s foes, the opposition comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority needed to send Brazil’s first female president for trial in the Senate on charges she manipulated budget accounts.
If the Senate votes by a simple majority to accept the case next month, as is expected, Rousseff would become the first Brazilian leader to be impeached for more than 20 years.
The crisis has paralysed the government as it struggles to revive the economy from its worst recession in decades. It has also sparked a bitter struggle between Rousseff, a 68-year-old former Communist guerrilla, and her Vice President Michel Temer, 75, who would take power if she is impeached.
Addressing the nation on television, a combative Rousseff insisted that she had committed no impeachable crime and accused Temer of openly conspiring to topple her government in what she described as a ‘coup’.
“While I am very saddened by this, I have the force, the spirit and the courage to fight this whole process to the end,” Rousseff told the televised news conference. “This is just the beginning of the battle, which will be long and drawn out.”
Rousseff stands accused of a budgetary sleight of hand employed by many elected officials in Brazil: delaying payments to state lenders in order to artificially lower the budget deficit to boost her re-election
bid in 2014.
Nevertheless, opinion polls show more than 60% of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, less than two years after the leftist leader narrowly won re-election. Her popularity has been crushed by the recession and a vast graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
The impeachment vote has deeply divided Brazilians, tens of thousands of whom demonstrated in front of Congress and in cities nationwide during the vote.
Many hold Rousseff responsible for everything from the devastating recession to chronic high taxes and poor public services. At the same time, a broad swath of the population attributes tens of millions of poor Brazilians’ rise from destitution over the past decade to Rousseff’s Workers Party and decried the vote as anti-democratic.
“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,” said Patricia Santos, a 52-year-old small business owner who was among the demonstrators outside Congress. “I quiver to think what awaits us next.”
A Rousseff aide said the government would focus on clawing back support in the 81-seat Senate, where it lacks the simple majority needed to prevent the case being accepted for trial. Given that it currently has the support of only 31 senators, the aide said the situation looked “very
The government has been looking to Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros, a crucial but fickle ally of Rousseff’s, to delay the Senate vote as long as possible to give it time to negotiate.