Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has voted in favour of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff, marking a big step towards her being removed from office.
In a marathon session, the motion was approved by two thirds, or 342 seats, of the Lower House of Congress. The house erupted in cheers from opposition parties as the target was reached shortly after 11pm.
The final vote count saw 367 legislators supporting impeachment, 137 against, and seven abstentions. Only two out of the 513 legislators were absent for the vote.
The impeachment process will now move to the Senate, and if supported in an initial vote, Rousseff will be forced to step down while a six-month trial takes place to deliver a definitive verdict.
In this scenario, which local analysts see as increasingly likely, Rousseff will be replaced on an interim basis by Vice-President Michel Temer of the PMDB party, the largest in Brazil’s congress. Temer and the PMDB formally split with Rousseff’s PT party earlier in April and is supporting her impeachment.
Impeachment proceedings began last year against Rousseff, who is accused of breaking fiscal laws by manipulating public finances ahead of her re-election in 2014.
The president, whose approval ratings have fallen into single figures, has called the impeachment process a “soft coup”, led by opposition groups supporter by the country’s main media outlets.
“We are facing the threat of a coup d’’état,” Rousseff wrote in an article published yesterday in daily Folha de Sao Paulo. “A coup without guns, using even more destructive weapons like fraud and lies, in an attempt to remove a legitimate elected government and replace it with one without votes or legitimacy.”
Today’s result deepens Brazil political crisis, with many top officials from both official and opposition parties being investigated for crimes more serious than those used to justify impeachment. Unlike Rousseff, those in line to take over the presidency face corruption charges including money laundering.
Vice-president Temer, who broke his alliance with Rousseff earlier this month, could also face potential impeachment charges for signing off budget figures. He is also being investigated over an alleged illegal ethanol purchasing scheme.
If Temer is also blocked from becoming leader, next in line to assume the presidency would be speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha. He too is facing possible money-laundering charges, which emanate from the lava jato (car wash) Petrobras scandal.
After that would come the head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, who is also caught up in the corruption investigations.
In today’s session, César Messias of the Socialist Party (PSB), voted against impeachment saying: “If we impeach Dilma, we get Temer. If we impeach Temer, we get Cunha. After that, Renan.”
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