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Brazil’s senate is poised to vote for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, a move that threatens to end 13 years of rule by her leftist Workers’ party and opens the way for an expected market-friendly government led by her vice-president, Michel Temer.
By 3.20am with a marathon session of speeches still far from finished, a majority of 41 of the chamber’s 81 senators had stated they would vote to impeach the president for budgetary crimes, with only 16 opposed so far. The vote will take place after all the senators have spoken.
What looks set to be an overwhelming vote for a process under which Ms Rousseff will be suspended from office for up to six months while she undergoes a political trial in the senate, is expected to please markets when they open on Thursday — although the new leader still has much to prove.
“People will want to see that Temer is capable of leading, he is capable of starting to turn the economy round,” said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, of the challenges facing the new leader of Latin America’s largest country.
Mr Temer, who would assume the interim presidency during the trial, is expected to appoint respected former central banker Henrique Meirelles as finance minister, while private sector economist Ilan Golfajn of Itaú Unibanco has been cited in local media as the possible new central bank chief.
A new team would face a daunting task, with the economy shrinking at an annual rate of nearly 4 per cent a year and millions of Brazilians unemployed.
If the senate eventually convicts Ms Rousseff by a two-thirds majority, she will be fired and Mr Temer will assume the presidency until the next elections in 2018.
She was said to have already cleared her family photos and other belongings out of the presidential palace on Wednesday and was expected to leave the building formally on Thursday.
Her imminent fall marks a low point for the Workers’ party (PT), whose founder, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was credited with reducing inequality in Brazil when he took office in 2003.
But the social experiment gave way to allegations the party and its erstwhile allies, which until recently included Mr Temer’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, were involved in a sweeping corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras.
Ms Rousseff was also accused of manipulating the budget to stimulate the economy ahead of the 2014 election.
“This is the mark of populist governments — they always act with fiscal irresponsibility and when they weaken, they always resort to the old language, dividing the country into ‘them’ and ‘us’,” said Aécio Neves, leader of the centrist opposition Brazilian Social Democracy party and one of the 70 or so senators who gave speeches during the session.
Supporters of President Dilma Rousseff, meanwhile, painted the impeachment as a coup. “It is unjust to do what they are trying to do with Brazilian democracy,” said senator Jorge Viana of the PT. “It is unjust because they are not just annulling the mandate of President Dilma, they are annulling the sovereign vote of the people.”
The senate speaker Renan Calheiros sought to maintain a sombre tone to Wednesday night’s proceedings.
“The eyes of the world are upon us,” he said, reprimanding senators for holding loud conversations during the speeches.
The session took a surreal turn when one of the senators, former president Fernando Collor — target of Brazil’s only other impeachment process when he was ousted from office in 1992 for corruption — gave a speech reflecting on his own experience and sharply criticising the Rousseff government.
“Never has Brazil suffered a confluence of economic, political and moral crises so clear, so interlaced and acute as that of today,” he told the senate, labelling the Rousseff administration a “government in ruins” and Brazil “a nation in ruins”.
Analysts say Mr Temer is expected to start government with strong support in both houses of congress, which should aid the passage of some initial bills, such as one partly liberalising procedures governing Petrobras.
He is expected to bring social welfare under the control of the finance ministry, signalling his priority on getting the country’s ballooning budget deficit under control.
Most, however, expect him to struggle to push fundamental reforms — such as those to the country’s unfunded pension system — through congress, with the PT resolved to oppose all bills coming from the new government.
He will also be exposed to the continuing investigation into Petrobras, with his own name included in some witness testimony.
But Mr Sotero of the Wilson Center said the changes under way in Brazil, particularly the corruption investigations, marked a sea change in the country.
“We are in a moment of transition,” he said. “The old Brazil is dying and there is another one being born.”
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