Brazils first female president stripped of duties in countrys first impeachment in 24 years
Less than halfway through her elected mandate, Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her presidential duties for up to six months on Thursday after the Senate voted to begin an impeachment trial.
After a marathon 20-hour debate that one politician described as the saddest day for Brazils young democracy, senators voted 55 to 22 to suspend the Workers party leader, putting economic problems, political paralysis and alleged fiscal irregularities ahead of the 54m votes that put her in office.
Rousseff, Brazils first female president, will have to step aside while she is tried in the upper house for allegedly manipulating government accounts ahead of the previous election. Her judges will be senators, many of whom are accused of more serious wrongdoing.
A final decision, which is likely in September or October, will require a two-thirds majority. Ominously for the president, this margin was exceeded in Thursdays vote.
Speaking after the vote, Rousseff remained defiant, denying that she had committed any crime, and accusing her opponents of mounting a coup.
I may have committed errors but I never committed crimes, Rousseff said during a 14-minute address, at one point choking up. Its the most brutal of things that can happen to a human being to be condemned for a crime you didnt commit. There is no more devastating injustice.
The impeachment is more political than legal. Similar fiscal irregularities went unpunished in previous administrations, but they are a pretext to remove a leader who has struggled to assert her authority.
After Rousseff came to power in 2010, she initially enjoyed some of the highest ratings of any leader in the world. But her popularity has slumped along with the economy, now in its deepest recession for decades.
Adding to her woes have been a fractious parliament and a massive corruption scandal at the state-run oil firm, Petrobras, that has implicated politicians across the spectrum, including many close aides and the former president Luiz Incio Lula da Silva.
With the Olympic spotlight now about to shine on Brazil and the Zika virus health crisis far from over the country is fraught with problems. Many blame the Workers party, which has been in power for 13 years. Rousseffs approval ratings are now around 10%; close to 60% of voters support impeachment.
But many are uncomfortable about how she is being pushed aside. Even many opponents acknowledge the president is one of the least corrupt politicians in Brazil.