Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ousted in impeachment vote

Dilma Rousseff
Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff answers questions during her impeachment trial at the National Congress in Brasilia on Aug. 29. (Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images)

BRASILIA — Brazil’s Senate ousted Dilma Rousseff as president Wednesday, voting to impeach the leftist leader in the culmination of a protracted process that has divided the country.

The vote to impeach Rousseff was 61 to 20. Two-thirds of senators — 54 out of 81 — were needed for the impeachment motion to pass.

Rousseff was suspended in May after the Senate confirmed a lower-house vote to send her to trial on charges that she broke budget laws. Her former vice president, Michel Temer, took over as interim president. If the vote goes as predicted, he will be confirmed in a Wednesday afternoon ceremony as Brazil’s president for the rest of Rousseff’s term, which ends in December 2018. In the evening, he plans to fly to China to take part in a summit of the Group of 20 major economies.

Rousseff has declared her innocence. She and her supporters have denounced her impeachment as illegal and undemocratic.

Rousseff, of the left-wing Workers’ Party, was elected to a second term in 2014, but her ratings have tumbled amid a severe economic recession and a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state-controlled oil company Petrobras that has tarred much of Brazil’s political class. Over the past year, huge street protests erupted calling for her impeachment. Tens of thousands also demonstrated in her favor, but support has dwindled in recent days as Brazilians have resigned themselves to her fate.

Rousseff is charged with financial irregularities — using government banks to temporarily fund social programs and issuing spending decrees without congressional approval. But many Brazilians see the proceedings as a ploy by conservatives to oust an unpopular leader.

Under Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, the economy has sharply contracted while unemployment, inflation and public spending have risen. The country lost its precious investment grade rating. During her spirited defense in the Senate on Monday, Rousseff blamed global economic conditions and the end of the commodities boom for Brazil’s troubles.

Temer, who belongs to the more conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, is trying to introduce austerity measures such as a lid on public spending and changes to Brazil’s generous pension system.

Financial markets expect him to move ahead with such reforms, but even with the Congress behind him he faces a difficult job, Castro Neves said. “Loyalties to him do not run very deep,” he said. “It’s a very unpopular agenda, and he is facing a very fragmented Congress.”

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