Brazilian Law and the Impeachment Process
For months, the presidency has been swirling in controversy over the Petrobras scandal and alleged financial wrongdoing. In December, after multiple requests, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha finally accepted a petition by two prominent jurists to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. Now, after a brief delay, it appears the impeachment process is again underway. But what does it take to impeach the president under Brazilian law?
Removing the president from office takes several steps:
First, a committee to examine the allegations against the president forms in the Chamber of Deputies (also referred to as the lower chamber). Representatives from all political parties take part to recommend acceptance or rejection of the allegations.
The president then gets ten sessions to defend herself before the committee. Subsequently, the committee meets and makes its recommendation.
If the committee recommends further action, then a vote must take place in the Chamber of Deputies. For the impeachment proceedings to move forward and on to the Senate (also known as the upper chamber), two-thirds of the members of the Chamber of Deputies must vote in favor of impeachment.
After a favorable vote in the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate then deliberates and votes. During such time, Vice President Michel Temer would act as president and President Rousseff would temporarily step down. Like in the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate vote also requires a two-thirds majority to impeach.
In the event Rouseff is impeached, she would relinquish the presidency and be barred from office for eight years. In such case, Vice President Temer would complete her mandate. If after 180 days the Senate reaches no decision, then the president would step back into office and continue her term.
Rousseff’s presidency is only the second in 30 years to face impeachment proceedings. Experts estimate that the impeachment process could take anywhere from six to eight months, but it is just beginning and it is already delayed. The process was held up when the Supreme Court ruled that the special committee formed by Speaker Cunha appeared stacked against the president and in need of reform.
Now, the reconstituted committee will consider impeachment based on the Petrobras scandal as well as alleged illegal accounting practices during Rousseff’s 2014 presidential re-election campaign. Corruption charges connected to the state-run Petrobras oil company revolve around kickbacks to key political and business figures when Rousseff was on the company’s board. The financial malfeasance charges allege Rousseff’s accounting practices violated law.
Speaker Cunha is also charged for his alleged role in the Petrobras scandal and faces impeachment himself. Some have conjectured that impeachment is more political than legal or practical against the embattled president and others in her party. The president, for her part, has vowed to fight the charges.