Annulment in Brazil impeachment drama is reversed
The roller-coaster ride that is the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff took another hairpin turn after the acting speaker of the lower chamber of Congress reversed his own decision from just hours earlier, that would have plunged the process into uncertainty.
The reversal by Waldir Maranh„o puts the impeachment process back on track, a day after he sparked chaos and sowed further discord among Brazil's fractious political class by annulling an April 17 vote by the Chamber of Deputies for impeachment. The move had put in doubt a crucial vote on the matter that was scheduled in the Senate for Wednesday.
Debate broke out over the legality of the move, and the head of the Senate declared he intended to ignore Maranh„o's annulment and move full steam ahead with the process.
But late Monday, just over 12 hours after the initial announcement, Maranh„o's spokesman Marcos Alberto said the acting speaker had gone back on his decision, for unknown reasons.
Such reversals are a staple of Brazilian politics, and the impeachment drama has been filled with such dramatic turns.
The decision clears the way to restore Wednesday's vote in the Senate on whether to accept the impeachment case against Rousseff and put her on trial for allegedly breaking fiscal rules in her management of the national budget. If a simple majority of the country's 81 senators decides in favour, Rousseff will be suspended and Vice-President Michel Temer will take over until a trial is conducted.
The impeachment proceedings come as Brazil is grappling with its worst recession in decades, a continuing corruption probe that already has ensnared top politicians and prominent businessmen, and an outbreak of the Zika virus. At the same time, the country's showcase city, Rio de Janeiro, is gearing up to host the Olympics in August.
Rousseff's once-overwhelming public support has eroded with the onslaught of bad news, with her approval ratings dipping into the single digits in recent months. While polls have suggested broad public support for her impeachment, they have also pointed to widespread worry about who might replace her.
Maranhao had argued that the lower house vote last month was riddled with irregularities, including party leaders telling members how to vote.
Speaking on Monday, Maranh„o said the vote was "We are not, nor will we ever be, joking around with how we make democracy."
Rousseff is battling impeachment over allegations that her government violated fiscal rules, in what critics say was a bid to artificially bolster the country's flagging economy. Rousseff has said that prior presidents used such fiscal manoeuvres and that the impeachment effort amounts to a "coup" aimed at removing her and her left-leaning Workers' Party, which has governed the country for 13 years.
Rousseff reacted cautiously to Maranh„o's initial announcement, suggesting it wasn't entirely clear what was happening.
"We have a difficult fight ahead of us," she said at an event about education. She also called for caution, saying that "we live in a time of cunning and wile".
Maranh„o took over the reins in the Chamber of Deputies after former Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who was the driving force behind the impeachment effort, was suspended over corruption and obstruction of justice allegations against him.
The head of the Brazilian Order of Attorneys, Claudio Lamachia, said the organisation "regards the decision with extreme worry".
"This sort of action responds to the momentary interests of certain political groups but ignores legitimate decisions that have already been made," Lamachia said in a statement.
The Eurasia Group, a US-based political and economic risk consultancy, said in a statement: "The decision certainly took most observers by surprise, but we think it very unlikely to hold.
"But one way or another, the Supreme Court will most likely have to weigh in," it said.