Brazilians celebrate as President Dilma Rousseff loses crucial impeachment vote

Brazilians cheer in the streets after lower house passes impeachment for President Rousseff

Brazilians celebrate as President Dilma Rousseff loses crucial impeachment vote in Congress.

BRASILIA, BRAZIL (APRIL 17, 2016) (REUTERS) – Brazilians cheered after President Dilma Rousseff lost a decisive impeachment vote in the lower house of Congress on Sunday (April 18) and appeared almost certain to be forced from office in a move that would end 13 years of leftist Workers’ Party rule.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from both sides took to the streets of towns and cities across the vast nation. Millions watched the Congressional vote live on television in giant screens in the street.

As thousands demonstrated outside Congress, the leader of the Workers Party in the lower house conceded defeat with the vote standing at 314 votes in favour to just 110 votes against sending Rousseff for trial in the Senate on charges of manipulating budget accounts.

On the grassy esplanade outside Congress, a 6.5-foot-high (2-metre) security barrier ran for more than 1 km separating rival demonstrations, a symbol of the political rift that has emerged in one of the world’s most unequal societies.

In Brazil’s southern economic powerhouse of Sao Paulo, thousands of pro-impeachment demonstrators packed the central Avenida Paulista, draped in Brazilian flags and waving banners reading: “Dilma out”.

“It’s the birth of a new Brazil, a Brazil marked by full democracy, by respect for judicial power, for our laws. Everything that is to come will be better,” said Eduardo Galvao, a student at the pro-impeachment demonstration in Sao Paulo.

“My country has overcome because of honest people. I came to all the rallies and I do not regret it. If it was needed, I would go to more,” said waiter Jose Pirez.

The surprisingly one-sided vote had a raucous atmosphere with opposition legislators crowding around the microphone and cheering every vote against the unpopular president.

In Rio de Janeiro, this doctor said it was the first step to returning his country to stability.

“Our work today is a work of hope. It’s a work that will produce something. I have no doubts that Brazil will once again be the Brazil we all love and enjoy,” said Jackson Caiafa.

The impeachment battle has paralysed the activity of government in Brasilia, just four months before the country is due to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and as it seeks to battle an epidemic of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in newborns.

Opinion polls suggest more than 60 percent of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president.

While she has not been accused of corruption, Rousseff’s government has been tainted by a vast graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras and by the economic recession.

If the Senate agrees to go ahead with the impeachment, as seems likely, Rousseff would be suspended from her post and be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer as acting president pending her trial. Temer would serve out Rousseff’s term until 2018 if she is found guilty.

The impeachment battle, which comes during Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s, has divided the country of 200 million people more deeply than at any time since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985.

It has also sparked a bitter battle between the 68-year-old Rousseff and Temer, 75, that appears likely to destabilise any future government and plunge Brazil into months of uncertainty.

Critics of the impeachment process say it has become a referendum on Rousseff’s popularity – currently languishing in single digits – which sets a worrying precedent for ousting unpopular leaders in the future.

They note that Rousseff is accused of a budgetary slight of hand commonly employed by many elected officials in Brazil.

Once regarded as an emerging markets powerhouse, Brazil has been hit by the end of a long commodities boom and lost its coveted investment grade credit rating in December.

Brazil’s stocks and currency have been among the world’s best-performing assets in recent weeks on growing bets that Rousseff would be removed from office, allowing Temer to adopt more market-friendly policies.

While Rousseff herself has not been personally charged with corruption, many of the lawmakers who decided her fate on Sunday have been.

Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group in Brasilia, said more than 300 of the legislators who voted – well over half the chamber – are under investigation for corruption, fraud or electoral crimes, including the man leading the proceedings, Speaker Eduardo Cunha. He is charged with corruption and money laundering in the kickback scandal involving Petrobras, and he also faces an ethics inquiry over undeclared Swiss bank accounts.