Brazil President Dilma Rousseff impeachment crisis: What happens next?

With Brazil's lower house of Congress voting late Sunday to impeach Dilma Rousseff, legislators have taken a big step in the process to attempt to remove the president from office.

More than two-thirds of Brazil's lower house of Congress voted to impeach the president

Brazil's lower house of Congress voted to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, bringing the country's political crisis a step closer to a showdown. (Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images)

With Brazil's lower house of Congress voting late Sunday to impeach Dilma Rousseff, legislators have taken a major step in the process to attempt to remove the president from office. Here's what to expect following this vote.

What happened on Sunday?

More than two-thirds of the lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies — like the U.S. House of Representatives — voted 367-137 to accept the recommendation of a congressional committee that Rousseff be impeached. Ironically, about 60 per cent of the 594 members of Congress are themselves facing corruption and other charges, including the Speaker, Eduardo Cunha. 

What's the next step?

The vote was just the latest step, but a major step toward impeachment. Despite the vote, Rousseff remains the leader. Now the process moves to the Senate, which will vote on whether the upper chamber should put Rousseff on trial for impeachment. (Local news media report that 45 of the 81 senators have said they will vote to hold the impeachment trial.)

It could be about 40 days before that Senate vote is cast. But timing is very difficult to predict, says Jeffrey Lesser a professor of Brazilian history at Emory University and currently research professor at University of São Paulo,  Rousseff has challenged every step of this process. She had asked the country's Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil's highest court, to suspend the proceedings, but lost that decision. But she could go to the court again, on the grounds that the accusations are faulty.

What happens after the Senate vote?

If the 81-member Senate, which only needs a majority, votes to put Rousseff on trial, she will be temporarily suspended and her duties will be assumed by Vice President Michel Temer. The Senate has 180 days to put Rousseff on trial, meaning she would be suspended while the trial is taking place. After the trial, the Senate will then either vote guilty or not guilty. If two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict her, she will be removed from office.

Anti-government demonstrators celebrate after the lower house of Congress voted to impeach Rousseff. (Andre Penner/Associated Press)

What happens if she's removed from office?

The vice president would become the president. However, there are at least two motions to impeach Temer. He has been implicated in the corruption scandal centred on the state-run Petrobras oil company and also signed off on the some of the same allegedly illegal fiscal manoeuvres Rousseff used. (Cunha, the speaker, is next in line if Temer was to be impeached.)

The vice president, is not from the same party as Rousseff — he had been part of a coalition government, meaning Temer and his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the largest party in Brazil (but with less than one-seventh of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies), have a high stake in Rousseff being impeached because they become the ruling party, Lesser said. 

But Temer's party abandoned Rousseff's governing coalition last month. And a recording was released of him rehearsing a post- Rousseff impeachment speech to the nation.

"He is smiling and looking forward to taking over and, according to the president, he has been one of the underhanded actors in this story," Lesser said.

Why the vote to impeach?

Rouseff has not been accused of corruption or any kind of thievery. The impeachment proceedings against Rousseff are based on accusations she used illegal accounting tricks to shore up flagging public support through spending.

"She's being accused of using a set of accounting practices that have been used for a long time in Brazil to balance the books in a way that conforms to Brazilian legislation of how the books have to be balanced," Lesser said.

Is the attempted impeachment based only on these alleged accounting irregularities?

No, says Lesser. There are some critics who believe that by using these accounting practices, Rousseff has engaged in criminal behaviour because, in their view, these practices are technically illegal.

However, there are also many people who want her to be impeached because they believe she's incompetent and has mismanaged the economy, Lesser said.

Pro-government lawmakers scuffle with opposition lawmakers during the session on whether or not to impeach Rousseff. (Eraldo Peres/Associated Press)

As well, there are those who believe that she allowed corruption to take place even though there's no evidence that she was personally and privately gaining from that corruption. 

"All of these groups that want to get rid of her don't necessarily agree on precisely why they want her to be gone. They just want her to be gone," he said.

What is the likelihood that the president will be impeached?

"A good chance," says Lesser. 

Then what?

If Rousseff is booted out, Temer becomes the permanent president and finishes out Rousseff's term to 2018.  But there are some discussions among members of Rousseff's Worker's Party that, in the wake of an impeachment, new elections be held since Temer has not won an election to be president. Not surprisingly, Temer opposes this move.

Will this political crisis have any effect on the Olympics?

Unlikely, says Lesser. The Summer Olympic Games are set to run from Aug. 5 to 21 this year in Rio de Janeiro. That means if the Senate votes for an impeachment trial, Rousseff could either be suspended during the Games or have been booted out of office. 

Lesser says that it's in Temer's best interests to make the Olympics a success. However, it's unclear whether the nationwide political protests will still be going strong during the Games and what effect they could have.

With files from The Associated Press