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Six things to know about the impeachment in Brazil

Six things to know about the impeachment in Brazil

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1. What happened in the Brazilian Congress this week?

The President (Speaker) of the House of Representatives, or Lower House, Eduardo Cunha, moved to accept a request to investigate whether President Dilma's should be impeached. Congressman Cunha is from PMDB, the largest party in President Dilma's coalition. However, Cunha also leads a group within PMDB that has abandoned the President and which has been in antagonistic internal opposition to the President since her first term. This year, however, Cunha came under sustained investigation by the Public Prosecutor for corruption. In a surprisingly blatant act of revenge, and as a retaliation for his status as a corruption suspect, he has pushed forward impeachment proceedings issued by the formal House opposition.

2. What are the stages of impeaching a sitting president?

Like everything else in Brazilian politics, the impeachment process is insanely complex and designed to make impeachment ('a constitutional coup') extremely hard to achieve.

  • First, a special Commission is created;
  • 10 sessions will be held for the President to present her defense
  • 5 sessions will be held for the appointed rapporteur of the committee present his opinion on approval (or not) of opening of proceedings to authorize impeachment. To do this a quorum of two thirds of Deputies of the Lower House is needed - that is 342 deputies.
  • A plenary session of the House will then be held to decide impeachment or not (two thirds of the House must vote for impeachment for it to proceed)
  • Impeached approved, present Dilma is overthrow for 180 days to determine the Senate. In practice, she does not return This is the general rule but, in this special case and in practice, there will be lots of procedural wrinkles and compromises made, so the process is not without the potential to throw up surprises and change.

3. What's the likely timetable?

It is very unclear as of now. It is not clear if the Congressional Recess (that is scheduled to take place between December 21st and the end of January) will be suspended or not. In this case, probably the plenary will vote around February or March 2016. If the Congressional Recess is not suspended, we can expect the plenary vote to happen not until late April or May 2016; thus opening the way for Brazil to be in a condition of political stasis, as the declining economy burns, for much of the first half of 2016.

4. Who is more likely to lose their place: the President or the Speaker of the House?

The speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB party that forms the largest part of the coalition in the Lower House). Cunha is investigated by the Chamber Ethics Committee for failing to declare to the IRS that he had a secret Swiss bank account with $ 5 million and for having denied the existence of this account in the Petrobras CPI in March. In Cunha's case, there is more concrete evidence that there were irregularities.

Moreover, the presidential impeachment procedure has more steps to it, so it should take more time. On October 28, the Chamber Ethics Committee received complaint against Eduardo Cunha to determine breaking parliamentary decorum, which can result in acquittal, censure, suspension or expulsion from the Chamber (cassaƧao). On November 16, the rapporteur gave a preliminary opinion in favor of continuing action against Cunha. The opinion shall be voted by the Council, which has not yet occurred. The complete process is long, but it is usual that in such cases the deputy withdrawal to answer the charges, thus avoiding the expulsion from the Chamber.

5. Does this mean a budget shutdown - closing government offices - is more or less likely (& when might his happen)?

On the same day the impeachment of President Dilma was opened, the Budget Committee (acronym in Portuguese - CMO) issues the preliminary report of the Budget for 2016. This indicates that the opposition already agrees with the broad thrust of the budget structure so that, even during the process and in the future event of the President?s impeachment, the government should have a ratified budget and should continue to function.

The essential economic projects outlined in the budget will remain, perhaps affected in their effective execution by the climate of impeachment perhaps, but they will remain.

6. Who becomes head of government if the president is impeached? Would it mean a change in policy?

The Constitution is clear in pointing out that it is the Vice President who assumes office and, in this case, it would be the current Vice President, Michel Temer (PMDB).

The whole situation changes, however, should the vice also become the subject of an impeachment process (which in Brazil's currently febrile political environment is not without conceptual possibility).In such a case, if both the President and then the Vice President (and subsequent President) are removed, in the first half of the original President's mandate, a new election should be called. It should be noted that the process of removing the succeeding Vice President itself would also take months and, If the distance between the two occurred in the second half of the mandate (in the last two years), elections are not called but a new President is chosen by Congress. The latter opens up of course all sorts of possibilities and do not be surprised if members of the political elite already, in the backroom salons of Brasilia, are cogitating personal and party advantage through these permutations.

In an actual scenario the Vice-President, Michel Temer, should assume the presidential mandate, he will be well-prepared. Temer is already developing agreements with the opposition in the Lower House that points to a government that will focus on free-market policy reforms and will have as a main objective to regain Brazil's economic credibility (and that of the Brazilian government with it). Relations between President and Vice President currently, understandably, are rather cool, since the Present is aware her deputy conspires against her.

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