Brazilians head back to streets in impeachment row


BRASILIA: Supporters of embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff were to hit the streets in rallies across the country Thursday aimed at pressuring Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.

Pro-government organizations and the leftist Workers’ Party called protests in 31 cities, with the main one in the capital Brasilia, headed by controversial former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula, who founded the ruling Workers’ Party and remains a heavyweight figure on the left, called for supporters to hit the streets on his Facebook page.

On Wednesday, Rousseff branded the attempt to bring her down as based on trumped-up charges and amounting to “a coup.”

She has been left dangerously isolated after the main coalition partner for her Workers’ Party, the PMDB, announced Tuesday that it was pulling out and would support impeachment.

Rousseff is also dealing with the deepest recession in a generation and fallout from a huge corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras that has snared a cross-section of the country’s elite — including Lula.

An Ibope poll showed approval for Rousseff’s government remains around record lows of 10 percent, while her personal approval rating was 14 percent.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern, telling O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that “any political instability in Brazil is a reason for worry.”

Rousseff faces impeachment over allegedly illegal budgetary manipulations to cover the extent of Brazil’s recession during her re-election campaign in 2014.

The potentially lengthy process is under way in a preliminary commission and the lower house of Congress could vote as early as mid-April on whether to send the case to the Senate for full trial.

To impeach Rousseff, 342 out of 513 deputies, or two thirds, must vote in favor. If Rousseff managed to get more than 171 votes she would defeat the measure, but it could also fail through abstentions or deputies not attending.

Until only recently Rousseff seemed likely to narrowly prevail, despite her unpopularity and the intense hostility of opponents in the increasingly divided country.

With the PMDB’s exit, the math gets far dicier, analysts say.

“The likelihood of impeachment has greatly increased,” said political analyst Michael Freitas Mohallem of the Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro.

Loyalists put a brave face on Tuesday’s debacle, with Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner calling it an opportunity to “renew” the government.

Put another way, the government now potentially has seven ministries and some 580 other posts to hand out and is ready to horse-trade for support.

Rousseff hopes to employ Lula, a renowned wheeler and dealer with huge respect in some quarters, to front her fightback. However, after being accused in the Petrobras corruption scandal, Lula has also become a lightning rod for opposition attacks.

“They’re all on their computers counting votes, trading votes for jobs and ministries,” Mohallem said.

A cross-party commission is hearing arguments and is expected to make its recommendation on impeachment on or about April 12. Rousseff’s defense is expected to wind up on Monday.

The lower house would then debate and could vote April 14-16, according to a preliminary estimate of the timetable.

If deputies do send the case to the Senate, then a process possibly taking months begins. A two-thirds vote would again be needed to depose Rousseff.

While Congress fights, ordinary Brazilians are becoming increasingly angry over the dismal economy and the constant drip of corruption revelations.

Demonstrations both against and in favor of Rousseff and Lula are multiplying.

Rousseff loyalists held rallies with some 270,000 people, according to police estimates, on March 19. The opposition, meanwhile, staged much larger rallies on March 13. AFP



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