On May 12th after over twenty hours of deliberation, Brazil’s Senate voted 55 to 22 to suspend President Dilma Rousseff for 180 days and to commence an impeachment trial in the Senate. The allegations that eventually lead to this began on October 7th, 2015 when Brazil’s Federal Accounting Tribunal uncovered examples of fiscal pedaling, known as “pedaladas,” connected to accounting conducted by President Rousseff’s government.
Throughout the process President Rousseff has maintained that “there is no judicial basis for this process of impeachment” and defends the claims against her administration by expressing that the fiscal maneuvers were common practice in Brazil. She also has adamantly claimed that the move to impeach her is an attempt of her country’s “elites” trying to take power back from the Worker’s Party that has been in power for the previous thirteen years.
Critics believe that the “pedaladas” that took place may have hid deficits that contributed to the country’s worse recession since the 1930’s and that those practices allowed her administration receive support to continue government spending. Also in question is her attempted appointment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, “Lula”, potentially providing him immunity after he was required to testify in the Lava Jato investigations.
Below are more details about the events that took place between the allegations in October and the Senate’s impeachment vote in May.
First Impeachment Attempt
On December 2nd Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil agrees to initiate the impeachment process against President Rousseff. As a result, on December 8th, a special commission of sixty-five members of the Chamber of Deputies is elected but on the same day suspended by Supreme Court Judge Luiz Edson Fachin. Justice Fachin contested the installation of the commission members on the grounds that the secret vote used to elect them was not constitutional and it did not meet the Chamber’s internal rules.
On December 11th President Rousseff presented a petition to Brazil’s Supreme Court to stop the impeachment process. That same day Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot joined justice Fachin in opposing the Chamber’s vote on the commission. He also joins in on a lawsuit presented by Judge Fachin intended to review and challenge the legal requirements for Brazil’s impeachment process to take place.
On December 17th Brazil’s Supreme Court agrees that the impeachment commissions selection process was not constitutional and therefore nullified the list of names elected. It was the Supreme Court’s decision that there should be members from every party in the Chamber and they should be selected openly. The Supreme Court also defined the impeachment process and outlined the Senate’s power to reject the impeachment process regardless of the Chamber’s approval.
Lava Jato Investigation
After having been arrested in November for allegedly taking kickbacks from Petrobras, on March 3rd PT Senator Delcídio do Amaral Gomez testified that President Rousseff and Lula actively engaged in obstructing the Lava Jato investigations. On March 4th Lula is required to testify in the Lavo Jato investigations, prompting a great deal of discourse among Brazilians both in favor and against.
After the former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction company was sentenced to nineteen years in prison for his connection to Lava Jato, on March 10th President Rousseff asks Lula to join her cabinet as a minister. This essentially provided Lula immunity and as a result upset many people as it appeared to be an attempt to protect him from prosecution. This move lead to the largest anti-government, pro-impeachment demonstrations and mobilizations in the country’s history.
On March 16th Lula agreed to become President Rousseff’s chief of staff. On the same day a judge in the Lava Jato case released a wiretapped conversation had by Lula and President Rousseff that implicated their intention to use the appointment in an attempt to protect Lula from prosecution.
Second Impeachment Attempt
On March 17th the Chamber of Deputies selects a new special impeachment commission via open voting. Representative of Congress as a whole, the commission is majorly comprised of the governing coalition that includes PT and PMDB. Also on that day Lula was appointed President Rousseff’s chief of staff only to have the appointment blocked by a judge in Brasília and Rio de Janeiro.
On March 18th, as large groups of demonstrators protested against the impeachment process, a federal judge blocked Lula’s nomination.
On April 6th the special impeachment commission published their findings and recommended Rousseff’s impeachment. On April 11th, the special commission voted thirty-eight to twenty-seven to allow the Chamber of Deputies to vote on impeachment. The Brazilian Supreme Court rejected President Rousseff’s motion to stop the impeachment process but determined that deputies can only consider accusations related to “pedaladas”, no other matters including Lava Jato should be considered.
On April 17th, 367 out of 513 legislators in Brazil’s lower house voted in favor of Rousseff’s impeachment.
On April 26th a special commission is selected in the Senate to debate President Rousseff’s impeachment. On May 3rd Prosecutor Janot filed criminal charges in the Supreme Court against Lula and requested that they investigate potential obstruction of justice committed by President Rousseff in connection.
On May 5th the Supreme Court suspended Chamber President Cunha by unanimous vote and Progressive Party member Waldir Maranhão is appointed interim head of the Chamber.
On May 6th the Senate’s impeachment commission agrees with previous findings and recommends that a full senate vote be taken. If the Senate votes to begin the impeachment process, President Rousseff would be suspended for 180 days while the impeachment proceedings in the Senate took place.
On May 9th Waldir Maranhão invalidated the Chamber’s impeachment vote and urged the Senate to allow the lower house to vote again. The head of the Senate affirmed that they were going to move forward on the impeachment vote. Later that day, under intense pressure, Maranhão revoked his decision to annul the Chamber’s impeachment vote.
On May 11th the Senate began debating and voting regarding the President’s impeachment trial. On May 12th, after more than twenty hours of debate, Senators voted fifty-five to twenty-two to initiate an impeachment trial in the Senate. This effectively suspended President Rousseff during the trial up to 180 days. If the trial has not been completed by then, she can return to the presidency for the remainder of the trial.
Michael Temer, President Rousseff’s Vice-President, became the acting President of Brazil while the President is suspended and may become president if the Senate does vote to remove President Rousseff.