SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — Capping eight months of a political thriller that has both transfixed and paralyzed this country’s ruling class, leftist President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office Wednesday after a historic vote in the Brazilian Senate.
Three hours after the nation’s first female president was officially removed from office, Michel Temer, the 75-year-old vice president who was also a political rival of Ms. Rousseff, was sworn in to replace her. But the swift transfer of power belied what will likely be a long period of reckoning and uncertainty over Brazil’s political and economic future.
“The Senate has found that the president of the federal republic of Brazil, Dilma Vana Rousseff, committed crimes in breaking fiscal laws,” Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowsky, who presided over this week’s trial, declared when the final vote was tallied.
Lawyers for Ms. Rousseff, who made an impassioned but ultimately futile appeal to lawmakers this week to keep her job, plan a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court. But she already rendered a harsh verdict of her own on her accusers.
“Today is the day that 61 men, many of them charged and corrupt, threw 54 million Brazilian votes in the garbage,” the ousted 68-year-old president said on her Twitter account, citing the votes she tallied in her 2014 re-election victory.
Mr. Temer promptly took his first official mission abroad, beginning a trip to represent Brazil at the G-20 summit in China. In front of the world leaders, he will have to challenge the leftist version of the impeachment drama — that Brazil was victim of a coup d’etat — and confront his main challenges as the president: to overcome the country’s political radicalization and the economic recession.
A constitutional expert and the interim president since last May, Mr. Temer rejected the narrative being promoted by Ms. Rousseff and her long-ruling leftist Workers Party (PT). They argued in the long and often tense Senate debate this week that her ouster reflected not a legal process but a political score-settling.
“They were the ones in favor of the coup d’etat, when they proposed a constitutional rupture,” Mr. Temer said.
But Ms. Rousseff showed no signs of going quietly, vowing to work with her party on a “firm, tireless and energetic” opposition to Mr. Temer’s administration.
In a speech to supporters and the press, she called the new government a “bunch of corrupted” politicians and accused the Senate of “tearing up the Constitution.”
But the final Senate vote, the climax of a yearlong drama swirling around the president, was not as close as many forecasters had thought: 61 senators voted in favor of impeachment, and only 20 voted against it. The opposition needed a supermajority of 54 of the 81 senators to vote in favor of her to be removed.
Eight senators revealed their choices at the last moment, all breaking against Ms. Rousseff. Among them was Senate Chairman Renan Calheiros, a political veteran from Mr. Temer’s party, the center-right PMDB.
In a second Senate vote a half-hour later, Ms. Rousseff won a minor victory when a measure to ban her from public office for eight years fell short on a 42-36 vote, according to The Associated Press.
Consolidating a victory
The new president and his allies moved swiftly to consolidate their victory, amid polls showing a majority of voters prefer a quick election to choose new leaders.
“We are together,” said Mr. Calheiros to Mr. Temer, just before the swearing-in ceremony at the Senate.
The Senate session Wednesday was calmer than the previous one, when some senators fought openly over the controversial charges. Despite a spate of financial scandals swirling around the government, Ms. Rousseff was not charged with personal corruption but with essentially fudging the country’s financial numbers to hide mounting government debt problems.
Aside from being Brazil’s first female career, Ms. Rousseff has had a long and colorful career that includes a stint as a Marxist guerrilla jailed and tortured in the 1970s during the country’s dictatorship and a long apprenticeship under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Her political support has suffered as the Brazilian economy has tumbled into a deep recession starting in 2015, although the polls show that Mr. Temer also is deeply unpopular with voters. The career politician was roundly booed when he appeared at the opening ceremonies of the recent Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Just before the final vote, leftist lawmaker Lindberg Farias denounced Mr. Temer’s allies as “scoundrels.” Conservative Sen. Ronaldo Caiado replied that it was Ms. Rousseff’s defenders who were the scoundrels.
Mr. Temer urged his ministers to work hard during his two years and four months of his term, with a focus on budgetary and pension reforms. He said reducing Brazil’s unemployment rate, now at 11.8 percent, will be a primary goal of his administration.
“From today on, the expectations are much higher for the government,” he said. “I hope that in these two years and four months, we do what we have declared — put Brazil back on track.”
In 2018 Brazil will elect a new president, and it’s not clear yet if Mr. Temer will be, or wants to be, on the ballot.