Brazil’s political crisis reached new heights today (May 12) as the nation’s senate voted 55-22 to suspend president Dilma Rousseff and put her on trial for breaking budget laws. She’s accused of illegally using public funds to cover up flaws on the country’s balance sheet.
The governing body held a marathon debate yesterday lasting well into this morning, with most of the 81 senators lining up to voice their position on Rousseff’s future. Last month 367 members of Brazil’s 517-person congress voted to impeach Rousseff.
The fight to remove Rousseff has been in the making for over a year. In 2015, Brazilian prosecutors implicated the country’s political elite in a corruption scandal at Petrobas, a state-backed oil giant that Rousseff herself chaired from 2003 to 2010. Lawyers allege that contracting firms bribed politically connected Petrobas executives in exchange for lucrative contracts. The backroom deals helped politicians in Brazil’s Workers’ Party, which Rousseff belongs to, boost campaign efforts.
Millions of protesters took to the streets upon news of Rousseff’s involvement in the scheme, and the rallies continued into this month. Resentment toward the president is deep: Her approval rating fell to 10% last month, down from 80% in 2013.
Rousseff will be suspended from office for a minimum of 180 days as her trial unfolds. Unfortunately for Brazil, her immediate successors don’t have clean records either.
Rousseff’s replacement will be vice president Michel Temer. But his tenure as acting president could be short-lived. Brazil’s supreme court has already called for a commission to form and decide whether he should face impeachment as well. The public’s resentment toward Temer follows its bitterness toward Rousseff. An April poll suggests that 58% of Brazilians want him on trial.
Next in line is Eduardo Cunha, who currently serves as house speaker in the lower house of congress. But Cunha has been implicated in the Petrobas corruption scandal—police suspect he accepted about $5 million in bribes as part of the scheme. In December police raided his house to search for signs of his connection to the incident.
After Cunha would be senate leader Reinan Calheiros. But he currently faces several corruption charges tied to the Petrobas scandal, including taking a $600,000 bribe to halt a senate investigation into the company.
Unless politicians and court justices can find a solution, the succession for Brazil’s head of state looks set to topple like dominos.
This story has been updated.