BRASILIA — After months of legal and political wrangling, Brazil’s 513-member Chamber of Deputies will begin voting at 2 p.m. Sunday on a measure to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.
Her congressional opponents appear to have designed the event for maximum political drama. Lawmakers will cast their votes one by one on live television, and they’ll have 10 seconds each to make a quick statement (or shout one). This means that the final tally, and Rousseff’s fate, may not be clear until Sunday evening.
The “impeachimistas,” as the anti-Rousseff side is known, insist that they have secured the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure. Rousseff’s dwindling pool of supporters say they can still block it. Both sides are reportedly engaged in a frenzied scramble to win over undecided deputies, offering control of government ministries and, thus, the ability to dole out cushy jobs. Of course, this is precisely the kind of behavior that has the Brazilian public furious with it political leaders.
Unlike the Brazilian politicians leading the impeachment push — and a majority of the country’s lawmakers — Rousseff isn’t under suspicion of illegal self-enrichment. Rather, she has been accused of accounting tricks and other book-cooking to mask budget gaps using improper loans from government banks.
Rousseff is deeply unpopular and politically enfeebled by her country’s severe economic crisis, but under Brazilian law, the standard for impeachment is “a crime of responsibility.” In other words, lawmakers will vote whether they believe she acted so irresponsibly as president that her deeds amount to a political offense, though not necessarily a criminal one.
If the impeachment measure passes, it would advance to Brazil’s Senate, where only a simple majority would be needed and Rousseff’s survival chances are even narrower. At that point she would be suspended from the presidency, and the Senate would have 180 days to conduct hearings ahead of a final impeachment vote.
Vice President Michel Temer would be sworn in during that time, but he, too, is potentially facing impeachment, so his appointment may not inject stability into the government ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
On Thursday, Rousseff made a last-ditch appeal to Brazil’s Supreme Court, but the 11-member panel ruled that the lower house can go forward with Sunday’s vote.
Even if she survives that vote, the push to remove her would not end. Several other impeachment proposals are pending, so her opponents could simply start the process all over again.