Updated September 1, 2016 — It’s been no easy task to follow Brazil's political crisis over the past few months, but the drama reached a culminating point on April 17: Brazil’s lower house of Congress secured the two-thirds vote required to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. The process then turned to the Senate. A majority of senators votes accepted impeachment, forcing the president to step down while a trial headed by the Supreme Court president took place in the Senate. Impeachment—and the president's permanent removal from office—required a two-thirds Senate vote, which finally occurred on August 31, leaving her one-time Vice President Michel Temer to assume the presidency.
The country's legislature and members of the judiciary have taken steps geared toward removing her from her post since early in her second term, though it wasn’t until December 2, 2015, that the Chamber of Deputies approved one of 34 impeachment requests. The impeachment process is based on accusations that her government carried out pedaladas, meaning manipulations of fiscal accounts to cover up budget deficits, which would violate Brazil’s Fiscal Responsibility Law.
All of this has taken place against the backdrop of Lava Jato, a scandal involving billions of dollars siphoned from Petrobras that’s ensnared more than 200 officials, including ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lava Jato investigations didn’t reveal concrete proof of Rousseff’s involvement, but little was done to ensure her grip on the presidency amid revelations connecting members of her governing Workers’ Party (PT) and the opposition to the scandal, as well as a coalition rupture between the PT and Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
AS/COA Online outlines the major developments.
December 2, 2015: Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, agrees to launch impeachment proceedings against Rousseff.
December 8, 2015: A special commission to debate Rousseff’s impeachment is elected in the Chamber of Deputies with 65 members. On the same day, Supreme Court Judge Luiz Edson Fachin suspends the installation of the impeachment commission, arguing that the secret vote used to elect its members did not meet either the Chamber’s internal rules or constitutional law.
December 11, 2015: Rousseff presents a petition before the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment process. On the same day, Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot opposes the Chamber’s secret vote on the commission, and joins Fachin with a lawsuit intended to review the legal requirements for an impeachment process.
December 17, 2015: The Supreme Court nullifies the list of names elected to the special impeachment commission, arguing that members should be selected openly and with representatives from every party in the Chamber. The Court also defines the impeachment process, giving the Senate the power to reject it even if it gains the Chamber’s approval.
March 3, 2016: PT Senator Delcídio do Amaral testifies that Rousseff and Lula tried to actively obstruct the Lava Jato investigations on corruption.
March 4, 2016: Lula is required to testify in the Lava Jato investigations, prompting crowds to gather, both in support and in protest, at the site where he delivers testimony.
March 8, 2016: Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction company, is sentenced to 19 years in prison for crimes connected to Lava Jato.
March 10, 2016: Rousseff asks Lula to join her cabinet, leading to accusations that she planned to nominate him to protect him from prosecution. As a minister, Lula would gain immunity and could only be tried by the Supreme Court.
March 13, 2016: Anti-government, pro-impeachment demonstrations take place across Brazil in what are reportedly the largest mobilizations in the country’s history.
March 16, 2016: Lula agrees to become Rousseff’s chief of staff. However, a judge in the Lava Jato case releases a wiretapped conversation between Rousseff and Lula that allegedly proves they intended to use the cabinet post nomination to avoid justice.
March 17, 2016: A new special impeachment commission is elected via open voting in the Chamber of Deputies. Incidentally, two-thirds of commission members are implicated in various crimes. As is the case with Congress as a whole, the commission has a majority derived from the governing coalition that includes the PT and PMDB. On the same day, Lula is appointed chief of staff, but two judges—one in Brasília and one in Rio de Janeiro—block his appointment.
March 18, 2016: Large numbers of protesters gather across the country to demonstrate against the impeachment process. Meanwhile, after a back-and-forth between Lula and the Brazilian justice system, his nomination is finally blocked by a federal judge.
March 22, 2016: Judge Teori Zavascki of the Supreme Court moves the case against Lula under its jurisdiction.
March 29, 2016: The PMDB leaves the governing coalition, leaving Rousseff more vulnerable to an impeachment vote.
April 6, 2016: The special impeachment commission publishes a report recommending Rousseff’s impeachment.
April 11, 2016: The impeachment commission approves, in a 38 to 27 vote, to let the Chamber of Deputies vote on the president’s impeachment. Also, Vice President Michel Temer of the PMDB leaks a speech in which he talks as if Rousseff had already been impeached and he were the new president. Although it seems Temer recorded it for private use, he shared it with his contact network, leading to a leak of the audio and widespread media attention.
April 13, 2016: Rousseff accuses Temer of conspiring against her.
April 15, 2016: The Brazilian Supreme Court rejects Rousseff’s motion to stop the impeachment process. This means the Chamber of Deptuies’ April 17 vote on impeachment will proceed, but the Court determined that deputies can only consider accusations filed in an April 6 impeachment report related to pedaladas, meaning no mentions of other matters such as Lava Jato.
April 17, 2016: A total of 367 out of 513 legislators—more than the 342 needed for the process to advance—in Brazil's lower house vote in favor of Rousseff's impeachment. Another 137 vote against it while seven abstained and two were.
April 20, 2016: Supreme Court Justice Zavascki postpones a decision on whether or not to allow Lula to take a ministry position.
April 26, 2016: A special commission to debate Rousseff’s impeachment is selected in the Senate with 21 members, mostly from the PMDB. Senator Antonio Anastasia, from PSDB, is elected as rapporteur of the impeachment process.
May 2, 2016: Janot files a new list of politicians to be investigated by the Supreme Court based on Senator’s Delcídio do Amaral allegations. The list includes Communications Minister Edinho Silva, Senate leader and PMDB member Renan Calheiros, and former presidential candidate Senator Aécio Neves.
May 5, 2016: The Supreme Court suspends Chamber President Cunha by unanimous vote. Waldir Maranhão of the Progressive Party becomes the new interim head of the chamber.
After Cunha’s suspension, Cardozo says the government would request the annulment of the April 17 impeachment vote based on the fact that the process was headed by Cunha, who “was acting in his own personal interest to deviate power.”
May 6, 2016: The Senate’s impeachment commission approves its rapporteur’s report favoring impeachment, sending the proceedings to be voted on by the full Senate. The vote, scheduled for May 11, requires a simple majority for the president to be suspended for 180 days and the impeachment trial to begin in the Senate.
May 9, 2016: Maranhão annuls the April 17 impeachment vote and sends a request to the Senate to stop the proceedings and return the process to the lower house. Opposition parties appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn Maranhão’s decision through an injunction, which the Supreme Court denied. The head of the Senate declared the vote on impeachment proceedings should proceed.
Later the same day, Maranhão, facing threats of being expelled from his own party, revokes his decision to annul the impeachment vote.
May 11, 2016: The Senate initiates debate and voting on the president’s impeachment trial.
May 12, 2016: After over 20 hours, senators vote 55 to 22 to suspend the president for 180 days and hold an impeachment trial in the Senate. "I’m being judged unfairly for doing things the law allowed me to do," says Rousseff in a speech before leaving the presidential palace.
May 23, 2016: The Senate starts the second phase of the impeachment process in which the special commission hears witnesses, gather documents, and creates a new report. The Brazilian Supreme Court starts presiding over Rousseff’s impeachment process.
June 8, 2016: Independent expert reports included in the impeachment process at the Senate eliminate two of the six decrees originally cited as proof that the president was manipulating fiscal accounts to cover up budget deficits.
June 27, 2016: A board of experts charged with investigating the accusations against Rousseff finds no proof of her direct involvement with the country’s fiscal budgetary maneuvers. However, the auditors say three decrees Rousseff authored in 2015 increased government expenditures without Congress’ consent.
July 28, 2016: Brazil’s former attorney general and Rousseff’s lawyer José Eduardo Cardozo delivers the defense’s final argument, more than 500 pages long, against the impeachment process in to the Senate. With this and the prosecution’s argument, the Senate’s special commission rapporteur starts creating a final report to conclude this phase of the impeachment process.
August 2, 2016: Rapporteur Antonio Anastasia reads his 440-page-long final report to the Senate’s special impeachment commission, concluding that Rousseff committed illegal actions and should be tried by the Senate.
Two days later, on August 4, the commission votes in agreement with the report and sends the matter to the Senate floor.
August 10, 2016: With a 59 to 21 vote favoring Anastasia’s report and the decision to remove Rousseff from the presidency, the Senate initiates the third and last phase of the process, an impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff, now considered a defendant.
August 25, 2016: With Brazil’s Supreme Court Minister Ricardo Lewandowski presiding, Rousseff’s Senate trial begins amid a battle between supporters and opposition members over attempts by Rousseff’s lawyers to annul the process. The legislative body is now considered a jury and Lewandowski reminds them they “must act with the utmost impartiality and objectivity, considering only the facts they are presented and the laws.”
August 29, 2016: Rousseff goes to the Senate to present her defense. She speaks for 45 minutes and insisted that the impeachment has no legal basis and represents a coup in violation of the country’s Constitution in that it opens the way for other democratically elected officials to be ousted as a result of political motivations. Moreover, she draws a parallel between the time she was tortured by Brazil’s dictatorship and her legal battle now.
After her defense, Rousseff faced senators for 14 hours, answering questions from more than 50 legislators.
August 31, 2016: Usually after prosecutors and defense deliver final speeches in the Senate, the trial would then move forward to a vote. However, senators supporting Rousseff appealed to split the vote into two different questions: one asking if the president should be removed from power because she manipulated federal accounting in an effort to conceal the nation’s mounting economic problems, and a second vote asking if Rousseff should be banned from public office for eight years.
Lewandowski authorizes the change and the Senate voted to remove Rousseff from the office with 61 votes in favor and 20 against impeachment. Given that 42 votes agreed with the second question, the second part did not achieve the necessary two-thirds majority to pass.
Less than two hours later, Michel Temer was officially inaugurated as president of Brazil. Temer spoke for 10 minutes in the occasion. He is slated to govern until 2018.