Brazil's Senate voted on Thursday to put leftist President Dilma Rousseff on trial in a historic decision brought on by a deep recession and a corruption scandal that will now confront her successor, Vice President Michel Temer.
Brazil's President set to bow out after Senate votes to put her on trial
The scale of her defeat on Thursday showed the opposition already has the support it needs to reach a two-thirds majority required to convict Rousseff and remove her definitively from office.
With Rousseff to be suspended during the Senate trial for allegedly breaking budget rules, the centrist Temer will take the helm of a country that again finds itself mired in political and economic volatility after a recent decade of prosperity.
The 55-22 vote ends more than 13 years of rule by the left-wing Workers Party, which rose from Brazil's labor movement and helped pull millions of people out of poverty before seeing many of its leaders tainted by corruption investigations.
Fireworks rang out in cities across Brazil after the vote at the end of a 20-hour session in the Senate. Police briefly clashed with pro-Rousseff demonstrators in Brasilia during the vote, but the country was calm early Thursday, with scattered celebrants in São Paulo and other cities draping themselves in Brazil's green, yellow and blue flag.
Rousseff, a 68-year-old economist and former member of a Marxist guerrilla group who was the country's first woman president, is unlikely to be acquitted in a trial that could last as long as six months.
"It is a bitter though necessary medicine," opposition Senator Jose Serra, tipped to become foreign minister under Temer, said during the marathon debate. "Having the Rousseff government continue would be a bigger tragedy. Brazil's situation would be unbearable."
Early Thursday, a Temer aide said the incoming government would announce a series of austerity measures to help reduce a massive budget deficit.
Temer plans to appoint Henrique Mereilles, a former central bank president and banking executive who is popular with foreign investors, as finance minister after taking office during the day, added the adviser.
Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros said Rousseff would be formally notified of her suspension on Thursday morning, after which she would leave Brasilia's Planalto presidential palace. As suspended head of state, she can continue to live in her official residence, have a staff and use an Air Force plane.
Rousseff, who has denied any wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a "coup," was expected to make a brief statement, aides said. She would later address a rally of supporters accompanied by her mentor, Workers Party founder and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Rousseff dismissed her cabinet, including the sports minister, who is in final preparations for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, Brazil's Official Gazette showed. The central bank governor, who has ministerial rank, was not included in the decree.
Temer, 75, a constitutional scholar who spent decades in Brazil's Congress, now faces the challenge of restoring economic growth and calm at a time when Brazilians, increasingly polarized, are questioning whether their institutions can deliver on his promise of stability.
'CRISIS TO CRISIS'
In addition to the gaping deficit, equal to more than 10 percent of its annual economic output, Brazil is suffering from rising unemployment, plummeting investment and a projected economic contraction of more than 3 percent this year.
"Only major reforms can keep Brazil from moving from crisis to crisis," says Eduardo Giannetti da Fonseca, an economist and author in São Paulo who has written extensively about the country's socioeconomic problems.
But those changes, including an overhaul of pension, tax and labor laws and a political reform to streamline fragmented parties in a mercenary Congress, could remain elusive at a time of turmoil.
While opposition supporters celebrated in the central Paulista Avenue of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, many Brazilians are concerned that the end of Workers Party rule could bring back bad times for the poor, who have made great strides in the last decade.
And many Brazilians are unsure whether a new government will make much difference in the short term.
Maria Carmo, a 48-year-old hair stylist at a shop in central Brasilia, expressed serious doubts.
"I don't see anyone who has the capacity the lead us out of this complicated mess we're in - all the politicians are under investigation," said Carmo. "This crisis impacts everyone - poor, middle class, and I would even argue the rich given all the turbulence."
Rousseff's government made a last-ditch effort to annul her impeachment but it was rejected by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
By dismissing her cabinet, Rousseff sought to frustrate a smooth transition for Temer. She views him as a traitor because of his efforts, as leader of the party that was her main ally in Congress, to unravel that coalition and force party colleagues to resign from government posts.
Temer plans to swear in new ministers on Thursday afternoon and is promising pro-market policies to bring the deficit under control, rein in inflation and get the economy growing again.
Brazilian markets have for weeks rallied as investors welcomed the likely dismissal of a president they believe crippled the economy, but were largely unchanged on Wednesday.
Wild cards remain for Temer himself, including still-pending investigations by an electoral court into financing for his and Rousseff's 2014 re-election campaign.
Then there is the far-reaching kickback probe around state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, which has ensnared dozens of corporate and political chieftains and fueled the discontent that led to Rousseff's impeachment.
Rousseff, energy minister and chief of staff to her predecessor before taking office in 2011, was chairwoman of Petrobras at the time when much of the graft occurred.
She has not been accused of corruption, but the scandal at Petrobras encouraged opposition lawmakers to oust her for disguising the size of the government's budget deficit in the lead-up to her re-election.
Temer has not been accused of wrongdoing in the scandal either, but some of his allies and party colleagues have. Prosecutors say they are far from finished with the probe.
Though many lawmakers have expressed their desire to join forces and get on with a recovery upon Rousseff's exit, dozens of parties are jockeying for power in the Temer government and angling to position themselves for new elections in 2018.
Temer has indicated he will not run for president in 2018. A recent survey from polling group Datafolha showed just 1 percent of those surveyed would vote for him, and other polls show around 60 percent of Brazilians want him impeached too.
"Temer may have a honeymoon, but let's not forget this was a shotgun wedding," said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. "Reforms aren't easy at the best of times and these are for sure not the easiest."
With the political crisis coming just as Brazil prepares for the August Olympics, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in a statement on Thursday:
"There is strong support for the Olympic Games in Brazil and we look forward to working with the new government."
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