BRASÍLIA: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was just hours from probable suspension Thursday ahead of an impeachment trial that could end 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America’s biggest country.
In a marathon debate in the Senate, momentum was clearly gathering against Rousseff, who is accused of illegal accounting maneuvers to hide budget holes in an election year.
A simple majority in the 81-member Senate would trigger Rousseff’s six-month suspension pending the outcome of her impeachment trial. She would be replaced by her vice president-turned-enemy Michel Temer, from the center-right PMDB party.
A two-thirds majority would then be needed to remove Rousseff permanently at the conclusion of the trial, probably in several months, with Temer remaining president until elections in 2018.
Rousseff has denounced the impeachment drive as a coup attempt, saying Temer has conspired against her to return the country to the right.
Brazil’s first woman president, a onetime Marxist guerrilla tortured under the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, has vowed not to go without a fight.
But the writing appeared to be on the wall.
Rousseff, 68, did not speak in public on the first day of the Senate debate Wednesday, and her staff have already begun cleaning out desks at the presidential palace.
Brazilian media reported she would be officially notified of the vote’s result at 10:00 am (1300 GMT) Thursday and would make a statement. A spokesman for her Workers’ Party told AFP that a crowd of supporters would gather outside to salute her as she drove off.
Temer was to form a new cabinet the same day, a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
Due to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in less than three months, Brazil is struggling with its worst recession in decades and a corruption scandal reaching deep into the political and business elite.
The multiple crises have left the country divided between those blaming Rousseff and those loyal to the Workers’ Party, whose transformative social programs have lifted tens of millions of people from poverty.
Senate President Renan Calheiros, who was overseeing the proceedings, told reporters that impeachment would be “traumatic” for Brazil.
But Rousseff’s chances of escape evaporated as the Supreme Court denied her attorney general’s last-ditch attempt to stop the process.
National divisions were plain to see outside Congress, where police erected a giant metal fence to keep apart small rival groups of demonstrators. Riot police pepper sprayed a group of Rousseff supporters.
Pro- and anti-impeachment protesters also scuffled briefly in Rio.
As the Senate session got under way, the square outside — Brasilia’s most famous landmark — was shut off by police and eerily deserted.
A government worker heading into the presidential palace said the atmosphere inside was “very sad.”
“Many of us are looking for new jobs,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.
Temer a solution?
Senators made their cases in 15-minute blocks.
At midnight, 14 hours into the session, 29 senators who signed up to speak were still awaiting their turns.
Just nine of the 42 who had already gone had backed the president.
Senator Paulo Paim, a Rousseff ally, told journalists there would not be any “miracle” and that his side would concentrate on defeating impeachment when it came to the vote at the end of the trial, which could be months away.
“It was the people who did this, who first took to the streets all over Brazil to say no more disdain of the truth, of ethics, of proper public administration,” said Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost the 2014 presidential election to Rousseff.
Magno Malta, a senator from the opposition PR party, said impeachment was the bitter medicine needed to heal a sick country.
“As soon as we vote for impeachment, the dollar will fall (against the Brazilian real), our stock market will rise and the patient will breathe again,” he said.
But even some of those opposing Rousseff doubt that a change of power will resolve the country’s underlying problems of corruption and mismanagement.
Pro-impeachment protester Sulineide Rodrigues said that even if she wanted Rousseff out, she had few hopes for Temer improving things.
“We don’t think Temer will be any better,” said Rodrigues, 59.
“But you know what we’ll do? We’ll keep coming back and keep having impeachments until there’s someone there who listens to us Brazilians.” AFP