Brazil’s Senate formally launched a trial Thursday against suspended President Dilma Rousseff, the final step in a months-long impeachment process against the Workers’ Party leader that has been widely condemned both at home and abroad as a parliamentary coup.
During the trial, the Senate will play jury, with the power to permanently remove Rousseff from office over accusations that she cooked the federal budget books in the runup to her 2014 reelection to hide a government shortfall and woo voters. Critics say that even if she is guilty as charged – and that is not at all a given – the offense is not an impeachable one.
The independent Federal Prosecutor’s office concluded last month that Rousseff did not violate any fiscal laws. Many have also pointed out that the practice has long been common among Brazil’s past presidents, reinforcing claims that the impeachment process has been a thinly-veiled power grab by the country’s conservative elite to revive neoliberal politics.
The trial, secured through a 59-21 vote in the Senate two weeks ago during the Rio Olympics, will begin by hearing witness statements, which are expected to last between two to four days. Rousseff will then face questioning beginning Monday. The prosecution and defense are scheduled to debate on Tuesday, followed by statements from each of the 81 Senators and a final vote.
The Senate needs to secure a two-thirds majority vote to make Rousseff’s impeachment permanent. Senators previously voted with a 55-21 supermajority to suspend the president in May and launch the impeachment trial against her.
Over the long process, the impeachment bid has also laid bare right-wing hypocrisy. Although Rousseff’s top rivals long attempted to paint her ouster as a campaign against government corruption, some 60 percent of the 594 members of the Congress that has driven the process face major criminal charges, including serious corruption and bribery offenses and even kidnapping and murder.
Earlier this week, a coalition of 44 non-profit organization and labor unions in the United States released a letter “in support of democracy in Brazil” and against the impeachment and criminalization of social movements.
“The impeachment of Brazil’s legitimately elected president, Dilma Rousseff, is essentially a coup by a group of right-wing politicians who themselves are under investigation for massive corruption,” said Maria Luisa Mendonça, co-director of Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, in a statement accompanying the letter. “It is intended to distract voters from the widespread corruption in the interim government and from the power grab by these politicians.”
Like the majority in Congress dominated by right-wing political parties, the government of unelected “interim” President Michel Temer is also embroiled in major corruption allegations. Since being installed in office upon Rousseff’s suspension with a vote in the Senate May 12, three of Temer’s ministers have been forced to step down over accusations of bribery and fraud. Temer and his Foreign Minister Jose Serra have both been accused of accepting millions of dollars in corporate kickbacks as part of the Petrobras state oil scandal.
If the impeachment is approved, Temer, who is barred from running for public office for eight years due to charges of electoral crimes, will be installed as president for the remainder of the term until 2018. Rousseff has vowed to push for a referendum on snap elections if she is removed from office.