(Photo: Eraldo Peres, AP)
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's Senate voted 59-21 Wednesday to put suspended president Dilma Rousseff on trial for allegedly breaking fiscal rules, the final step before they can start her impeachment trial.
As the world focused on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, senators in the capital city of Brasilia moved forward with their efforts to permanently remove Rousseff, who was suspended in May. At that time, the Senate voted 55-22 to move forward with the process, meaning the impeachment movement is gaining support and currently has the super-majority of votes needed (at least 54) to impeach her.
Wednesday's vote came after nearly 17 hours of debate and focused on the charges that Rousseff used illegal tactics to mislead Brazilians about the country's economy. Rousseff's accusers say that during the run-up to her 2014 re-election bid, her government failed to make payments on social programs but claimed the payments were being made, only revealing the extent of Brazil's financial woes until after she had secured the election.
Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and her defenders argued that right-wing legislators were using an accounting error to end 13 years of rule by Rousseff's Worker's Party.
"The cards are marked in this game," said Worker's Party Sen. Jorge Viana, according to Reuters. "There is no trial, just a sentence that has already been written."
After her suspension in May, Rousseff was replaced by Michael Temer, 75, a constitutional lawyer and longtime politician who has been serving as interim president ever since. Brazil's next presidential election is scheduled for 2018, and Rousseff and others have called for that to be moved up, given the country's political crisis. If she's formally impeached, Temer will likely serve out the rest of that term.
The vote comes at a turbulent time in Brazil. A corruption scandal dubbed "Operation Car Wash" exposed widespread abuse in the state-run oil company Petrobras and led to convictions against some of the country's most powerful businessmen and politicians. And Brazil's once-promising economy, which a few years ago was the talk of the international financial world, has tanked.
That combination has led to widespread protests from police officers, firefighters and other government workers who aren't getting paid on time and citizens who see their hospitals, public transportation and other government services suffer.
Rafael Pedra, 34, a business lawyer from Rio, said he's thrilled the impeachment proceedings are happening during the Olympics because it shows the world that his country is trying to improve its myriad problems.
"It's an indication that things can get better," he said. "The time has come to clean up our politics, to get some transparency. If we pushed this off until after the Games, it might not ever happen."
But according to Senate rules, Rousseff's impeachment trial may not start until the closing ceremony has wrapped up on Aug. 21.
Rousseff's accusers will be given 48 hours to prepare their indictment and compile their list of six witnesses. Then Rousseff will be given another 48 hours to prepare her rebuttal and compile her six witnesses. After that, Ricardo Lewandowski, president of the Brazilian Supreme Court, will decide the date of the trial and give 10 days notice.