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Brazil's Congress Moves Toward Impeachment Of President

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is accused of manipulating government finances to benefit her 2014 re-election campaign. She is shown here at a news conference in Finland in October. Jussi Nukari/AP hide caption

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Jussi Nukari/AP

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is accused of manipulating government finances to benefit her 2014 re-election campaign. She is shown here at a news conference in Finland in October.

Jussi Nukari/AP

Brazil's Congress has opened impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, who is accused of manipulating government finances to benefit her re-election effort.

The move injects a new element of instability into the political landscape in Brazil, which is being roiled by corruption scandals and a sharp economic downturn.

Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, said he would accept a request filed by opposition politicians in September to form a special committee to look into whether to impeach Rousseff.

If two-thirds of the lower house approves, a trial would begin in the Senate. Two-thirds of the Senate would then have to vote to remove Rousseff.

While that is a high bar to clear, Rousseff has become deeply unpopular, with an approval rating of just 9 percent, and her governing coalition has fallen apart.

Rousseff is an economist who got her start by participating in the leftist opposition to Brazil's military dictatorship and spent time in jail in the early 1970s. She later served as chief of staff to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, before she became president.

The Guardian reported that the charges against Rousseff date to her 2014 re-election campaign:

"The court of audit is looking into allegations that the government illegally bumped social security payments on to state banks to dress up the fiscal balance sheet, which if proven could also lead to impeachment procedures."

At the same time, a widening political scandal has engulfed the government, The New York Times reports:

"What began as an inquiry into bribes at the national oil company, Petrobras, has mushroomed into a much larger scandal, ensnaring in recent days André Esteves, a billionaire investment banker, and Delcídio do Amaral, a senator in the governing Workers Party."

Cunha himself has been the target of a corruption probe, for allegedly taking bribes, and members of Rousseff's party say the decision to begin impeachment proceedings against her is retaliation for pursuing a case against him.

The political scandals have made it harder to address the economic downturn in Brazil, which has been hit hard by low commodities prices. On Tuesday came word that Brazil's economy shrank by 1.7 percent during the third quarter of 2015.