Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday as the country’s House of Representatives voted to impeach her over alleged wrong doings.
She was alleged to have doctored government accounts to allow for more spending in the run-up to her re-election in 2014. The president, who is less than a year into her second four-year term, is also grappling with multiple crises, including a faltering economy, mounting congressional opposition and a growing corruption scandal.
In a rowdy session of the house presided over by the house speaker, Eduardo Cunha, voting ended late on Sunday evening with 367 of the 513 deputies backing impeachment – comfortably beyond the two-thirds majority of 342 needed to advance the case to the upper house.
As the outcome became clear, Jose Guimarães, the leader of the Workers Party in the lower house, conceded defeat with more than 80 votes still to be counted. “The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate,” he said.
As the crucial 342nd vote was cast for impeachment, the chamber erupted into cheers and Eu sou Brasileiro, the football chant that has become the anthem of the anti-government protest.
Opposition cries of “coup, coup, and coup” were drowned out. In the midst of the raucous scenes the most impassive figure in the chamber was the architect of the political demolition, Cunha.
Watched by tens of millions at home and in the streets, the vote – which was announced deputy by deputy – saw the conservative opposition comfortably secure its motion to remove the elected head of state less than halfway through her mandate. There were seven abstentions and two absences, and 137 deputies voted against the move.
Once the senate agrees to consider the motion, which is likely within weeks, Rousseff will have to step aside for 180 days and the Workers Party government, which has ruled Brazil since 2002, will be at least temporarily replaced by a centre-right administration led by Vice-President Michel Temer.
On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964.
Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president.
Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.
And yes, voted the vast majority of the more than 150 deputies who are implicated in crimes but protected by their status as parliamentarians.
At times the session exposed the farcical side of Brazil’s democracy, such as the Women’s party that has only male deputies, or the Popular Socialist party that is one of the most right-wing groups in congress.
Brazil’s presidential chief of staff Jaques Wagner said the government was confident the senate would dismiss the impeachment, insisting the vote was a setback for democracy and was “orchestrated” by Rousseff’s opponents who never accepted her re-election victory in 2014.
Reports say Rousseff’s chances of survival look slim. Brazil has turned dramatically against the country’s first female president. Once one of the most popular leaders in the world, with approval ratings of 92%, Rousseff has since seen her support plunge as a result of economic recession, political turmoil and the Lava Jato investigation into corruption at Petrobras, which has implicated almost all of the major parties.