Brazil's congress votes in favour of impeaching Dilma Rousseff

Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff appeared to be on the verge of losing office last night after a congressional vote to impeach her and with falling support in the Senate, which would vote on whether to remove the left-wing leader.

Activists supporting Dilma Rousseffs impeachment follow the action on big screens in Rio de Janeiro. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The 367-137 lower house vote in favour of impeachment sends the issue to the Senate. If a majority there votes to put Ms Rousseff on trial, she would be suspended while Vice president Michel Temer temporarily takes over. The Senate vote is widely expected to take place by the middle of next month. Local media reported that 45 of the 81 senators have said they will vote to hold the impeachment trial.

The vote worsens the confusion over the country’s political landscape as Brazil, already reeling from a sharp economic recession and a massive corruption scandal, prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.

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The impeachment vote has deeply divided Brazilians, tens of thousands of whom demonstrated in front of Congress during the vote.

Many hold Ms Rousseff responsible for everything from the devastating recession to chronic high taxes and poor public services. At the same time, a broad swathe of the population attributes its rise from poverty to her Workers Party and decried the vote as anti-democratic.

Neither Ms Rousseff nor Mr Temer have yet reacted publicly to the vote, but local news media suggested the vice president was already putting together his team and sketching out potential policies.

“Now comes the hardest part,” Mr Temer was quoted as telling aides following Sunday’s chaotic, six-hour-long vote. The impeachment proceedings against Ms Rousseff are based on accusations used illegal accounting tricks to shore up flagging public support through spending.

Ms Rousseff says previous administrations used such fiscal manoeuvres without repercussions. She insists the accusations are a flimsy excuse for a “coup” by Brazil’s traditional ruling elite to grab power back from her left-leaning party, which has ruled the country for 13 years.

Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said after the vote that Ms Rousseff would fight impeachment in the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court.

But many analysts were sceptical she can hold on to power, noting her spectacular failure win the support even of parties that had long been part of her governing coalition.

The political stand-off has dragged on for months, hampering efforts to respond to the country’s worst recession in decades and a corruption scandal centred on the state-run Petrobras oil company that has entangled political and business leaders - though not Ms Rousseff herself.

Sunday’s vote came about 24 years after the lower house opened impeachment proceedings against Fernando Collor de Mello, Brazil’s first democratically elected president after more than two decades of military rule. Mr Collor faced corruption allegations and ended up resigning before the conclusion of his impeachment trial in the Senate.

Ms Rousseff, a one-time guerrilla fighter tortured under the military dictatorship, was picked by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to succeed him – becoming Brazil’s first woman president. But seven years of strong growth under Mr Silva began to flag after she took office in 2011, and she only narrowly won re-election in 2014.