Top Brazil court orders opening of impeachment against VP

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The man who would take over if Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is impeached, Vice President Michel Temer, could now be running that same risk of impeachment.

Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello ruled Tuesday that the lower house of Congress must open impeachment proceedings against Temer because he faces the same allegations of breaking fiscal rules as Rousseff.

Mello ruled a commission must be created to examine the impeachment request against Temer — the same procedure Rousseff is now going through.

The request was among four filed against Temer — all of which were dismissed by the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha. He is a key ally and member of the same party, as well as an enemy of Rousseff. Mello ruled that Cunha overstepped his role by deciding to shelve the filing because he determined it lacked merit.

Mello's ruling reverses Temer's dismissals in one of the filings, although Cunha can appeal the decision to the full court.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, suggested general elections could be a valid way out of the political crisis paralyzing the country.

Speaking to journalists, he said "we cannot close any doors, or fail to discuss any alternative."

"We have to hold onto it as an alternative," Calheiros said.

Rousseff, speaking early Tuesday, appeared dismissive of the idea, saying, "convince the Congress and Senate to give up their mandates. Then come talk to me."

Calls for a general election have increased in recent weeks, as the possibility that Rousseff might be impeached has become more likely. With all three of those in line to succeed her —Temer, Cunha and Calheiros — ensnared in the corruption scandal at the state-run oil company, Petrobras, a growing chorus is urging general elections as a way of wiping the slate clean and starting afresh.

Proponents of the plan insist on the need to urgently resolve the current quagmire, saying that the longer the crisis drags on, the harder it will be to restart the country's flagging economy and bring down rising unemployment and inflation.

Also on Tuesday, Rousseff ruled out a Cabinet reshuffle ahead of a congressional vote on her impeachment, which is expected mid-month.

Uncertainty over the Cabinet had reigned since last week, when Brazil's largest party pulled out of Rousseff's governing coalition. Leaders of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, which Cunha and Calheiros belong to, said its six ministers would resign immediately, but none has yet left the government.

Observers had said they expected Rousseff to offer the posts to smaller parties to help secure their support in the impeachment vote. But Rousseff said Tuesday that the presidential palace "does not intend to make any ministerial restructuring before the vote in the lower house."

If Rousseff's foes score two-thirds of the 513 votes, the impeachment process against her moves forward in the Senate.