Brasília: The impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff looked set to go ahead on Tuesday, after the interim speaker of the lower house said he had reversed his earlier annulment.
In the latest twist to the country’s spirling political crisis, local media said Waldir Maranhao had “reversed the decision” to cancel the April vote by lawmakers that had first begun the process.
His move clears the way for Rousseff’s impeachment, after Senate president Renan Calheiros on Monday dismissed Maranhao’s initial decision and said the upper house would go ahead with the impeachment vote anyway.
Maranhao’s U-turn ends a rift among Congress leaders that Rousseff’s supporters had hoped to exploit in order to oppose her impeachment after the process descended into confusion.
Maranhao threw the vote into chaos by declaring that the whole process was flawed and should be brought back to square one.
The original vote by lower house deputies sending Rousseff to face the Senate had “prejudged” the president and denied her “the right to a full defense,” Maranhao said.
He called for the Senate to halt proceedings and for the lower house to hold a new vote.
The order prompted consternation in the Brazilian capital, with Rousseff’s allies seeing a possible escape route for the president and her opponents reacting furiously.
Rousseff — who faces being suspended from office if the Senate votes to open an impeachment trial, expected on Wednesday — huddled in an emergency meeting with ministers as she waited to see how the Senate would react.
Calheiros did not take long.
“I ignore” the order, he said in a nationally televised session to raucous applause and angry shouting from rival senators on the floor.
Calheiros called Maranhao’s intervention in the impeachment drama “absolutely untimely” and “playing with democracy.”
– Corruption charges –
Maranhao, the man at the center of the latest episode, is little-known to most Brazilians.
He took the post of speaker only last week as a replacement for veteran Eduardo Cunha, the architect of the controversial impeachment drive whom the Supreme Court forced to stand down over corruption charges.
The impeachment battle has taken so many unexpected twists that Brazilians refer to it as a real-life version of the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.”
It comes as the country has descended into economic crisis and corruption scandals have hurt many leading politicians.
Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, is accused of illegally manipulating government budget accounts during her 2014 re-election battle to mask the seriousness of economic problems.
She says the process has been twisted into a coup by right-wingers in the second year of her second term.
Her removal is looking increasingly certain after an overwhelming majority of the lower house voted in mid-April to send her case to the Senate.
In the Senate, around 50 of the 81 senators have already said they planned to vote in favor of an impeachment trial, well over the simple majority needed to open the process.
The vote result is expected on Thursday, followed shortly after by Rousseff’s departure from the presidential offices. Ministers have reportedly already been clearing their desks.
Once suspended, Rousseff would face a trial lasting months, with a two-thirds majority needed eventually to eject her from office.
She would likely be replaced by her vice-president-turned-enemy, Michel Temer.
A center-right leader who has been fined by a Sao Paulo court for campaign financing irregularities, he could face an eight-year ban from seeking elected office.