The Economist, 03/22/2016
ON MARCH 18th Brazil’s political crisis entered a new phase. After months of procedural wrangling, congressmen voted to commence impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff, the country’s embattled president. On paper, Ms Rousseff’s main sin is resorting to accounting trickery in order to disguise the true size of the budget deficit. In practice, she is paying the political price for mismanagement of the economy and a corruption scandal centred on Petrobras, the state oil company, which has engulfed her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT). Will she survive the ordeal?
This is not the first time that Brazil’s young democracy has gone through the trauma of impeachment. In 1992, seven years after the end of the military regime in power from 1964 to 1985, Congress booted out Fernando Collor. Mr Collor, the first post-dictatorship leader chosen by popular vote, was accused of taking bribes (his criminal conviction was later overturned on a technicality; he is now a senator, and under investigation in the Petrobras imbroglio, which he denies having any involvement in). Back then, there was agreement that Mr Collor must go, both among ordinary Brazilians and their representatives in the capital, Brasília. The impeachment motion easily cleared the constitutional hurdle of at least two-thirds of votes in favour in both houses of Congress.
To avert a similar fate, Ms Rousseff first needs to convince at least 172 lower-house legislators out of 513 to back her. She has ten congressional sessions, or two or three weeks, to present her defence to a special commission. This body then has five sessions to issue a recommendation to the full house, which must vote on it within 48 hours. If Ms Rousseff’s foes fall short of 342 votes, the case is buried. Should they succeed, senators must then approve, by an absolute majority of 41 out of 81, to accept the lower-house motion. If they do, a trial of up to 180 days begins, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. During this period, Ms Rousseff steps down and her vice-president, Michel Temer, temporarily takes her place. If at least 54 senators subsequently vote to remove her, Mr Temer would probably serve out the rest of the term, which ends in 2018.