Brazil's Senate has voted to send President Dilma Rousseff to an impeachment trial on charges of breaking budget laws. A majority of lawmakers in the 81-seat chamber have decreed the trial would begin later this month.
Senators voted 59-21 to send Rousseff to an impeachment trial Wednesday after interim President Michel Temer, in temporary charge after Rousseff's suspension in May, had called on senators to proceed with the trial quickly.
He had told lawmaker he wanted to advance reforms to limit public spending and reform the pension system. "People need to know who the president is," he said.
If Rousseff is convicted and removed from office, Temer would be confirmed as president and serve out her term until 2018.
Going into the debate, Temer's associates were confident that 60 senators would vote for the trial to proceed. That is six more than the number needed to eventually convict Rousseff.
However, Temer himself may be implicated in the allegations of corruption. Jailed construction magnate Marcelo Odebrecht reportedly claimed Temer had received illegal campaign funding.
Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski presided over Tuesday night's debate for Rousseff to stand trial on charges of manipulating government accounts and spending without government approval. At the start of the debate he told senators that they were about to "exercise one of the most serious tasks under the constitution."
Senate speaker, Renan Calheiros, mirrored his tone: "I want to emphasize the gravity of the decision that we will soon take," he said. "I ask that we set aside as much as possible our party political convictions."
"What we are talking about today is defending the constitution and democracy itself. Those who commit crimes must be held responsible for them," said Senator Aecio Neves, one of Rousseff's lead rivals. "The conditions are firmly in place for removing Dilma Rousseff."
Member of Rousseff's Workers Party, Senator Regina Sousa told reporters: "We know we won't win tonight. We are focusing efforts on the final judgment by trying to win over undecided senators."
"Today is not a good day for our democracy," said Senator Paulo Rocha. Against her, he said, "there is a political alliance that smells of a coup."
A final verdict, expected at the end of the month, would require two-thirds of Senate votes.
For her part, Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing. She has condemned the impeachment as a right-wing conspiracy to remove the government. She has received some support.
In the US, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Rousseff was facing a political trial, not a legal one: "To many Brazilians and observers the controversial impeachment process more closely resembles a coup d'état," Sanders said in a statement issued on Monday.
The impeachment trial is expected to open around August 25 - four days after the Olympics finish - and go on for five days, ending with a vote in judgment.
Signs of protest
When Temer addressed the crowd at the opening ceremony last Friday, the 75-year-old was met with booing.
Several people have been expelled from stadiums for holding up signs "Fora Temer" calling for Temer to resign. On Tuesday, a judge ruled that peaceful protests must be allowed in the stadiums. He threatened to levy fines of up to $3,200 (2,870 euros) on anyone who removed peaceful protesters from venues.
The Olympic organizing committee is to appeal the decision. "This is a global event, and we think and we hope that the stadiums should not become a platform for political debate," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Tuesday but added the organizing committee nonetheless plans to "absolutely" respect Brazilian law.
jm/bw (Reuters, AFP)