Less than halfway through her elected mandate, Dilma Rousseff has been stripped of her presidential duties for at least six months after senators voted 55-22 to impeach her and put her on trial.
After what one politician called the “saddest day for Brazil’s young democracy”, a majority of the senators voted after a late-running impeachment debate that they would vote to suspend the Workers’ party leader, putting economic problems, political paralysis and alleged fiscal irregularities ahead of the 54 million votes that put her in office.
Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, will have to step aside for at least six months while she is tried in the upper house for allegedly manipulating government accounts ahead of the previous election. Her judges will be senators, many of whom are accused of more serious crimes.
The decision is likely to be more political than legal. After Rousseff came to power in 2010, she initially enjoyed some of the highest ratings of any leader in the world. But her popularity has slumped along with the economy, now in its deepest recession for decades.
Adding to her woes have been a fractious parliament and a massive corruption scandal at the state-run oil firm, Petrobras, that has implicated politicians across the spectrum, including many close aides and the former president Luiz Ináçio Lula da Silva.
With the Olympic spotlight now about to shine on Brazil – and the Zika virushealth crisis far from over – the country is fraught with problems. Many blame the Workers’ party, which has been in power for 13 years. Rousseff’s approval ratings are now around 10%; close to 60% of voters support impeachment.
But many are uncomfortable about how she is being pushed aside. Even many opponents acknowledge the president is one of the least corrupt politicians in Brazil.
On their way to the impeachment debate, senators walked through the long concrete corridors of the parliament building, which are decorated with timelines of epic moments in the history of the chamber: the abolition of slavery in 1888 (the last major country in the world to do so), the creation of the First and Second Republics of 1889-1930 and 1946-1964 (both of which ended in military coups), the return of democracy in 1988 and subsequent steps to improve the rights of workers, women and minorities.
Few taking part would claim the impeachment of the country’s first woman president will be remembered with pride.
Unlike the triumphantly ugly scenes during the lower house vote which invited scorn around the world, most of the senators struck a sombre tone. There was no repeat – at least in the early sessions – of the cheering and singing. Instead, many claimed to be sad and said they were only reluctantly approving the suspension of the elected head of state because the economy was in crisis and politics were in turmoil.
“All the people here are broken hearted. We don’t want this, but it is unavoidable. Brazil has come to a stop since last year,” claimed Marcelo Crivella, who, as well as being a senator for the Brazilian Republican party, is a gospel singer and a bishop of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. “We all recognise that [Dilma] has done a good job during her life for the democracy of Brazil.”
Despite these respectful words, Crivella – who was once allied with the Workers Party government – said that he would vote for the impeachment of the president because the country is mired in crisis and needs a change of economic policy. Others cited problems of corruption, which have led to the arrests of dozens of politicians across the political spectrum.