Drive to impeach Brazilian president thrown into chaos
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The impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was thrown into confusion Monday when the acting speaker of the lower house of Congress annulled an April vote by lawmakers that launched the process.
Just days before the Senate seemed near-certain to suspend Rousseff for six months and open an impeachment trial, the new leader of the lower house threw a spanner in the works the latest twist in the political crisis roiling the country.
Waldir Maranhao, the interim speaker, wrote in an order seen by AFP that a new vote in the lower house should take place on whether to impeach Rousseff in the coming days following five official sessions in the chamber.
The cancellation of the lower house vote was ordered in response to a request by Rousseff’s solicitor general, who had challenged its legitimacy.
However, it was not immediately clear how the chaotic new developments would play out.
The Senate had been due to start its own voting process on Wednesday, with a majority expected to back suspension of Rousseff.
Once suspended, she would face a trial lasting months, with a two-thirds majority needed eventually to eject her from office.
It was unclear whether the Senate would recognize Maranhao’s order or whether the Supreme Court would step in to decide.
In the first reaction from the Senate, the head of the chamber’s impeachment committee, Raimundo Lira, said that the vote would go ahead as planned, regardless of Maranhao’s intervention. However there was no immediate word from the powerful Senate president, Renan Calheiros.
A delighted-looking Rousseff interrupted a speech to supporters to say that she’d just got unconfirmed news of her impeachment hitting a roadblock.
“I don’t know the consequences. Please be cautious,” she said, calling on her backers to “defend democracy.”
Twists and turns
The impeachment battle has taken so many unexpected twists that Brazilians refer to it as a real-life version of the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.”
Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, is accused of illegally manipulating government budget accounts during her 2014 re-election battle to mask the seriousness of economic problems. But she says the process has been twisted into a coup by right-wingers in the second year of her second term.
Her removal had been looking increasingly certain after the lower house voted in mid-April by an overwhelming majority to send her case to the Senate for trial.
In the Senate, around 50 of the 81 senators have said they planned to vote in favor of an impeachment trial, well over the simple majority needed to open the process.
The vote result had been expected on Thursday, followed shortly afterwards by Rousseff’s departure from the presidential offices. Ministers have reportedly already been clearing their desks.
Adding to the confusion, Maranhao, the man at the center of the latest episode, is little-known to most Brazilians.
He took the post of speaker only last week as a replacement for Eduardo Cunha, the veteran speaker and architect of the controversial impeachment drive who was forced by the Supreme Court to stand down over corruption charges.
Maranhao was to give a press conference at 4:00 pm (1900 GMT).
Economic crisis, corruption
The political crisis comes on top of the deepest recession in decades in Latin America’s biggest economy, just three months before it hosts the Olympic Games in Rio from August 5 to 21.
The affair has heightened tensions in Brazil, which is in the midst of a giant corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras that has implicated numerous politicians including allies and enemies of Rousseff.
Rousseff has not been formally accused of corruption like many of her rivals. But prosecutors have called for her to be investigated for allegedly trying to obstruct a probe into the Petrobras affair.
Among the high-profile suspects are Cunha and her presidential predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
If Rousseff is suspended, she would be replaced by her vice-president-turned-enemy, Michel Temer.
Temer, a center-right leader, has been alleged to have been involved in the Petrobras affair but he has not been formally investigated. A Sao Paulo court has fined him for campaign financing irregularities and he could face an eight-year ban from seeking elected office.