Brazil's Senate ousts Rousseff from presidency in historic vote

Brazil's Senate overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office on charges of breaking budget laws, bringing to a decisive end 13 years of rule by her leftist Workers' Party.

The 61-20 vote in the upper house of Congress was well clear of the 54 votes needed for a two-thirds majority.

Vice President Michel Temer, of the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), now takes over the leadership of Latin America's largest country until its next presidential election in 2018.

Rousseff, who came to power in 2011 as the country's first female president, stood accused of manipulating state budgets as she ran for re-election in 2014 as well as improperly granting loans to the federal government from state-owned banks.

She denies any wrongdoing and has called her trial a right-wing "coup."

The impeachment proceedings - the first in Brazil in more than two decades - were opened in December. Rousseff was then suspended from office in May after the lower house of Congress voted to impeach her. Temer has served as interim president.

The vote came at the end of a combative and emotional trial, in which Rousseff defended her record and vowed to keep fighting, and lawyers for both sides ended their closing arguments in tears.

Rousseff is the second Brazilian head of state to be impeached after former president Fernando Collar de Mello resigned ahead of his trial on corruption charges in 1992.

In a marathon 13-hour session Tuesday, about 60 senators declared they would vote against Rousseff, all but sealing her fate.

Shortly before the vote Wednesday, Supreme Court President Ricardo Lewandowski agreed to an opposition request to vote separately on removing Rousseff as head of state and banning her from office for eight years.

But the Senate voted against the ban, which Rousseff's lawyer had called a "political death penalty."

A long-time left-wing activist who trained as a guerrilla in her youth in order to fight Brazil's military dictatorship, Rousseff was elected president in 2010 and was narrowly re-elected to another four-year term in 2014.

She was once seen as a rising star at the helm of the world's fifth-largest country, but her fortunes took a tumble as Brazil has been consumed by the deepest recession in its history and corruption scandals that have embroiled much of the country's political class.

The country's economy is expected to contract 3.3 per cent this year. Mass street protests broke out last year, reflecting anger at the government's inability to improve economic conditions and the corruption scandals that have left more than half of the 594 members in the National Congress under investigation.

The biggest of all the scandals involves state-run Petrobras. Bribes totaling billions of dollars are alleged to have been paid in the awarding of dozens of contracts by the oil giant to construction companies and passed on in part to politicians.

Rousseff was chairwoman of the Petrobras board from 2003-10, when the kickback schemes were said to have taken place. She denies having had any knowledge of wrongdoing and has not been charged in the case.

Even with Rousseff's removal, the country remains divided.

Temer, 75, opened the Olympic Games earlier this month to jeers and street protests and is unpopular with Brazil's poor.

His conservative government is expected to cut pricey social programs in a bid to balance the budget and revive Brazil's economy.

All but unknown on the world stage, he will make his debut at the G20 in China September 4-5, where he is expected to make the case for his liberal economic program.

Last update: Wed, 31/08/2016 - 20:08
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