Brazil’s Senate rejects house speaker’s move to annul impeachment process against Rousseff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff. © Ueslei Marcelino
Brazil’s Senate has rejected the lower house speaker’s decision to halt impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. The head of the Senate said the vote on whether to put Rousseff on trial will be held as scheduled.

The impeachment procedure against President Dilma Rousseff is still in force and the vote on whether to bring her to trial over an alleged breach of budgetary laws will take place this week, Renan Calheiros, the head of the Senate has announced, according to Reuters.

The announcement comes in defiance of the lower house speaker’s move earlier in the day to suspend the impeachment process. The surprise decision by Waldir Maranhao – who entered office last week – came as the impeachment process was being passed to the Senate for a vote, following last month’s decision in the lower house. The upper chamber was set to vote on Wednesday.

Procedural irregularities were detected during the April vote that ended with the lower chamber accepting impeachment charges against Rousseff, Maranhao said, according to Reuters.

It still remains unclear whether his decision could be overridden by the Supreme Court, the Senate, or a majority of votes in the house.

The leftist Rousseff, who denies any wrongdoing, may face trial on a charge of breaking budget laws.

The Senate had been expected to vote in favor of putting Rousseff on trial. At that point, she would have been suspended from her office for a period of up to six months, with Vice President Michel Temer taking over in the interim.

Maranhao is an ally of Governor Flávio Dino, one of the main supporters of President Rousseff. He took over the office of speaker from Eduardo Cunha, who orchestrated the impeachment process against Rousseff. Cunha was suspended amid the investigation on charges of corruption, intimidation of lawmakers, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

Rousseff insists that there are no legal grounds for the impeachment, adding that the procedure initiated against her has “all the characteristics of a coup,” which could have “serious consequences for the Brazilian political process.”

The motion alleges that President Rousseff manipulated the government’s accounts amid her re-election campaign in 2014.

Speaking to her supporters in Brasilia on Monday after the lower house’s vote was suspended, Rousseff called herself “a victim of a coup.”

“It's an absolute disregard of the Brazilian population, it's to undermine their capacity to comprehend, to talk that impeachment is not a coup because it's on the constitution. Well, it is on the constitution, but they forget to say that to have an impeachment, there needs to be a crime of responsibility. And there is no crime of responsibility,” Rousseff stressed.

A money laundering investigation, dubbed Operation Car Wash and involving the state-controlled oil-company Petrobras, has implicated a number of senior officials of Rousseff’ s Workers’ Party and their opponents as well.

Ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, close ally and mentor of Rousseff, has also been drawn into the scandal, which gave a setback to her approval ratings, which had already plummeted to around 10 percent.

Three men in Rouseff’s possible line of succession, Vice-President Michel Temer, ex-speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros, head of the upper house of Congress, have all been implicated in the investigation.

On April 17, 367 members of the lower house out of 513 voted for impeachment proceedings to go ahead.