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Senate Votes to Suspend Rousseff with Temer Becoming Interim President

05/12/2016 - 09h21

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MARIANA HAUBERT
LEANDRO COLON
DÉBORA ÁLVARES
RUBENS VALENTE
GABRIEL MASCARENHAS
FROM BRASÍLIA

The Senate has voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff, 68, of the leftist Workers' Party (PT). She now faces an impeachment trial, the second head of state to do so since the return of democracy to Brazil, 24 years after Fernando Collor.

Her vice, Michel Temer, 75, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), will take over on an interim basis on Thursday, becoming the 41st Brazilian president.

The decision was taken at 6:30am, after a marathon plenary session of nearly 21 hours in the Senate. With 78 senators present, 55 voted against the President, with 22 voting in her favor.

Senate president Renan Calheiros (PMDB - Alagoas), an ally of Rousseff until recently, did not vote. There were no abstentions. A simple majority was needed for impeachment proceedings to be approved.

The Senate will now have up to 180 days to assess the case against the President. When this assessment is over, the Senate will vote again on impeachment. 54 votes will be required, meaning that if today's result is repeated, it will spell the definitive end of the Workers' Party era, which began with the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003.

Rousseff is accused of editing supplementary credit decrees without approval from Congress and using funds from public banks in treasury programs - the so called "fiscal maneuvers". Her defense team argues that these are not sufficient grounds for impeachment.

"We have sufficient proof to conduct a trial," said Antonio Anastasia, the senator who presented the case against Rousseff.

"There is no evidence of any crime of sufficient gravity to justify it," retorted José Eduardo Cardozo, the Attorney General.

The Senate also discussed what will happen next. It is likely that Ricardo Lewandowski, the president of the Supreme Court, visits the Senate this afternoon, to formally take legal control of the impeachment trial.

Calheiros will be present at the meeting with Lewandowski, along with Raimundo Lira (PMDB - Paraíba), the president of the special impeachment commission in the Senate, as well as party leaders.

After being formally notified of her suspension, Rousseff will greet activists from the PT and social movements in front of the Planalto Palace and leave for the Alvorada Palace, where she will live during her period of suspension.

It is likely that Rousseff will be formally notified at 10am and Temer at 11am. He then becomes interim president of Brazil, at least until the Senate's final decision on Rousseff's impeachment.

MARATHON SESSION IN THE SENATE

Senators of both government and opposition took part in a long and tiring session which lacked the passion of the vote in the Lower House on April 17.

One of the rare moments of silence came during the speech of senator Fernando Collor (PTC - Alagoas), who resigned shortly before being impeached in 1992.

He said that he warned the government about the possibility Rousseff could be impeached, but she "did not listen." "I offered my services, but she did not listen. They ignored my considerations. They ignored my experience. Self-sufficiency took precedence over reason," he said.

After Collor's speech, Calheiros said that the government had "lost the centrality of the nation." "They can no longer claim to act in the national interest," he said. "Over the years we have been improving our institutions, even changing this law, conducting political reform and demonstrating, above all, how difficult this process of democratic construction is."

With the result practically a foregone conclusion, government allies in the Senate were already throwing in the towel. "Tomorrow [Thursday] I will be with President Rousseff as she leaves, certainly. The rules of the game are rigged. The Senate is writing one of the saddest pages in its 190-year history," said senator Jorge Viana (PT - Acre), vice-president of the Senate.

The speech that received warmest applause from the government's opponents was that of senator Aécio Neves (PSDB - Minas Gerais), whom Rousseff narrowly defeated in the 2014 presidential elections.

"Imbalance in public finances generates instability in the country, which means that investment is lost and unemployment begins to increase," he said.

NEW CABINET

Temer has spent the last few weeks painstakingly assembling his new cabinet, trying to appease sectors of the business community and civil society, as well as aiming to satisfy his allies, whose support he will need to pass legislation in Congress.

His star appointment is likely to be that of the economist Henrique Meirelles to the Ministry of Finance. He may also cut the number of ministries from 32 to 22.

Temer's team believe that he will have around 60 days to stabilize himself politically and pass emergency economic measures in Congress. If these measures are successful, it will make Rousseff's political absolution virtually impossible.

Rousseff, her predecessor Lula and the PT have accused Temer of conspiracy and orchestrating a coup, given that the impeachment proceedings in the Lower House were conducted by his PMDB ally Eduardo Cunha.

JUDGEMENT

During her period of up to six months of suspension, Rousseff will be judged on whether she authorized budgetary credit without the requisite legal foundation and having conducted so-called "fiscal maneuvers" - using funds from public banks in an inappropriate manner, which in 2015 cost R$72.4 billion (US $21 billion) in reimbursement.

The senators approved the case against Rousseff brought by Anastasia, a local party ally of Neves. Anastasia believes that the accusations against Rousseff are compatible with the definitions laid out in the impeachment law of 1950, though the government denies this.

Rousseff fought proceedings until the bitter end, appealing to the Supreme Court in an attempt to have the case annulled, but to no avail.

Beforehand, on Monday (9), the interim Lower House speaker Waldir Maranhão attempted to annul the session on April 17 that voted to authorize the opening of proceedings against Rousseff. This was an initiative by the government that was abandoned following opposition from Calheiros.

Three senators were absent: Jader Barbalho (PMDB - Pará), who is undergoing medical treatment; Eduardo Braga (PMDB - Amazonas), who is on official leave and the businessman Pedro Chaves (PSC - Mato Grosso do Sul), the replacement of former senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was removed from office for breaching parliamentary decorum.

COLLOR

With her suspension, Rousseff follows in the ignominious footsteps of Fernando Collor. In 1992, both houses of Congress authorized the opening of impeachment proceedings against him. Collor eventually resigned during his suspension, shortly before the Senate voted definitively to impeach him.

In 1999, then president Fernando Henrique Cardoso managed to avoid the opening of impeachment proceedings in the Lower House.

Since the Getúlio Vargas era (1930-45), three presidents elected by popular vote have failed to complete their mandate: Vargas himself, who committed suicide in 1954 amidst a political crisis; Jânio Quadros, who resigned in 1961, the same year he was elected, and Collor. João Goulart, who was Quadros's vice and came to power following his resignation, was toppled by a military coup in 1964.

Temer becomes the third PMDB president since democracy returned to Brazil, after José Sarney (1965-1990) and Itamar Franco (1992-1994) - though the party has never had a president elected via direct vote.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

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