Chaos in Brazil as Dilma Rousseff impeachment vote annulled

Confusion after surprise move by acting speaker of lower house Waldir Maranhão

Efforts to remove Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff were left in a state of constitutional chaos on Monday after the acting head of the lower house of congress annulled last month's session that approved an impeachment motion against her.

The surprise decision by Waldir Maranhão came just two days before a majority of the country’s senate was set to vote to formally take up the motion, which would have triggered Ms Rousseff’s automatic suspension for up to 180 days while the upper house decides her final fate.

Explaining the annulment, Mr Maranhão, who voted against impeachment, cited irregularities in the session which approved it.

His move follows a request by Ms Rousseff’s attorney general José Eduardo Cardozo to annul the session based on what he claimed were multiple illegalities.


Mr Maranhão said he will seek to hold a new vote in the chamber of deputies within five sessions of the senate returning the process to the lower house. On April 17th the scandal-plagued chamber voted by 367 votes to 137 to remove Ms Rousseff for breaking budgetary laws.

The surprise move caused local markets, which blame the president for the country’s deep recession, to sell off heavily. It was not immediately clear if the senate is now obliged to suspend Wednesday’s vote and return the impeachment motion to the lower house. On Friday a senate committee recommended, by 15 votes to five, the impeachment motion to the full chamber.

Proponents of impeachment immediately reacted to Mr Maranhão’s decision by saying they would appeal to the supreme court, which is increasingly being dragged to the centre of Brazil’s political crisis.

Mr Maranhão only ascended to the leadership of the lower house last week after the court suspended the mandate of his predecessor Eduardo Cunha, the prime instigator of impeachment, for using his position to obstruct investigations into allegations he illegally amassed millions of euro in bribes.

Though he is deeply unpopular, the suspension of Mr Cunha caused unease among some jurists, who argued it was a constitutionally unwarranted interference by the judiciary in the legislature.

Speaking about the latest twist in the battle to remove her, Ms Rousseff, who was just two days from having her mandate suspended, was circumspect. “I don’t know the consequences, so please, be cautious,” she told a gathering of public school teachers and students. As news of the annulment spread through the audience there were chants in favour of Mr Maranhão.

But politicians close to vice-president Michel Temer, who had spent weeks forming a new administration in anticipation of being sworn in as acting president on Wednesday, dismissed Mr Maranhão's manoeuvre.

"This is just another factoid from a government taking its dying breaths," said former minister and Temer loyalist Geddel Vieira Lima to the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. "I don't believe this is anything serious. [Impeachment] is already before the senate."

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America