The impeachment process against Rio Governor Wilson Witzel

. Jun 11, 2020
The impeachment process against Rio Governor Wilson Witzel Rio Governor Wilson Witzel. Photo: Alerj

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Despite saying we were going to take a break today, a national holiday, the news simply won’t stop in Brazil. Today, we analyze the impeachment process against Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel.

What will happen to Rio Governor Wilson Witzel?

Wilson Witzel had barely settled into his office as governor of Rio de Janeiro when

he began planning his 2022 presidential campaign. Now, it seems that Mr. Witzel&#8217;s term <a href="">might not even last</a> until the end of the Covid-19 crisis, as state lawmakers voted 69-0 to open impeachment proceedings against him. Just two weeks ago, the governor was targeted by a <a href="">Federal Police operation</a> and is suspected of taking kickbacks from companies that siphoned part of Rio&#8217;s coronavirus budget.</p> <ul><li>Investigators believe the kickbacks were paid through a law firm belonging to Helena Witzel, Rio&#8217;s first lady. That was exactly the modus operandi used by Sergio Cabral, a former Rio governor caught by Operation Car Wash — and now doing time for multiple corruption convictions. In fact, all Rio governors elected since 1998 — excluding Mr. Witzel — have spent time behind bars.</li><li>Mr. Witzel denies any wrongdoing and has called the investigation a &#8220;political hit job&#8221; orchestrated by President Jair Bolsonaro. His suspicions of foul play stem from a &#8220;prediction&#8221; of one congresswoman close to the president, who said the Federal Police would target the governor, just days before they did, in fact, knock on his door.</li></ul> <p><strong>What happens now.</strong> State-level impeachment proceedings are much faster than those at the federal level. While the <a href="">impeachment</a> of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 came at the end of a nine-month process, Mr. Witzel&#8217;s could be done by the end of the month, depending on lawmakers&#8217; disposition. Here is what will follow:</p> <ul><li>Yesterday&#8217;s decision must be published on the state&#8217;s official gazette, after which parties will have 48 hours to name representatives to a special impeachment committee.</li><li>The deadline for Governor Wilson Witzel to present his defense spans ten sittings.</li><li>The special committee will weigh the accusation&#8217;s arguments against the governor&#8217;s — and issue a recommendation for or against impeachment.</li><li>After debates, lawmakers will hold a roll call vote. If Mr. Witzel can whip a simple majority (35 of 70 votes), he continues in office. If not, he loses his political rights for eight years.</li></ul> <p><strong>Miscalculation.</strong> Mr. Witzel&#8217;s dreams of grandeur made him alienate allies and gave room to improbable alliances. Bolsonaro-supporting benches have even joined forces with the left-wing Workers&#8217; Party (which runs the State Congress) in order to oust the governor.</p> <p><strong>Too little, too late.</strong> After the Federal Police operation, Mr. Witzel insulted the president and said his eldest son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, who faces <a href="">money-laundering investigations</a>, should be behind bars. He would later try to mend fences, but Mr. Bolsonaro reportedly &#8220;did not forgive&#8221; his words.</p> <p><strong>Is there a way out for Wilson Witzel?</strong> A unanimous vote for kicking off proceedings is certainly a bad omen, but it doesn&#8217;t necessarily mean he will be out. However, it will be a Herculean task that requires immense pork-barrelling. In a state already cash-strapped as it is, that is easier said than done.</p> <ul><li>Just last year, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella faced an impeachment vote of his own — and exchanged executive positions for votes. It worked, but Mr. Witzel&#8217;s uphill battle will be much more difficult.</li><li>Negotiations are made even more challenging due to the extreme fragmentation of Rio&#8217;s State Congress. A total of 27 different political parties are represented — for just 70 seats.

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