Brazilian Senate to discuss new impeachment rules

A group of legal scholars assembled by the Senate will present its first draft today on new rules for impeaching presidents in Brazil.

The law that regulates impeachment is from 1950 and has only been amended once, in 2000. Since Brazil’s return to democracy in the 1980s, two presidents have been impeached — and the rules were applied inconsistently across both cases.

Fernando Collor was impeached by the House in 1992 but resigned before the Senate could conclude its own proceedings. Regardless, he was banned from running for office for eight years.

Meanwhile, Dilma Rousseff was impeached by both the House and Senate in 2016. However, she was allowed to retain her political rights. Indeed, two years after being ousted from the presidency, she tried and failed to gain a Senate seat, finishing fourth in a race with two seats at stake to represent the state of Minas Gerais. Ms. Rousseff obtained 15.3 percent of the vote.

The working group in the Senate is led by Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who presided over Ms. Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment trial while serving a two-year stint as chief justice. 

During the case, Justice Lewandowski proposed “splitting” Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment into two separate votes, one on whether she should be removed from office, and another on whether she should lose her political rights for eight years. 

A majority of senators agreed with his decision, despite the Constitution explicitly stating that impeachment results in automatic ineligibility.

Rafael Mafei, a law professor at the University of São Paulo, has argued that the real motivation for this new discussion is the ongoing tug of war between the Senate and the House. While the Senate drafts new rules for impeachment, the House is discussing the adoption of a semi-presidential system, in the molds of the French Fifth Republic.

A semi-presidential system would greatly expand the powers of the House. As things stand, the Senate already plays a small role in impeachment proceedings. The new draft on the impeachment rules could be a way of creating a new balance of power between the congressional chambers.

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