World

Votes Mount Against Brazil’s Rousseff at Impeachment Trial

If Rousseff is convicted, her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer, will lead the nation until the next presidential elections in 2018.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff reacts during the signing ceremony of the Civil Procedure Code, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia March 16, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

With a final vote expected to convict her today, Rousseff’s dismissal would confirm a shift to the right and the end of 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule that helped lift some 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

Brasilia: Votes piled up against President Dilma Rousseff at her impeachment trial on Tuesday as opponents made final arguments for her removal, not just for breaking budget rules, but for plunging Brazil into a political and economic crisis.

Rousseff, suspended from office in May pending the Senate trial, is charged with spending public funds without congressional approval and illicitly using money from state banks to boost public works to favor her 2014 re-election, an accounting sleight of hand employed by many elected officials.

With a final vote expected to convict her today, Rousseff’s dismissal would confirm a shift to the right and the end of 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule that helped lift some 30 million Brazilians out of poverty.

Several senators who had not previously declared their votes, including two from the northern state of Maranhao, shifted decisively against Rousseff on Tuesday, according to four sources familiar with their deliberations.

In testimony to the Senate on Monday, the 68-year-old leader denied any wrongdoing and said the impeachment process was aimed at protecting the interests of the economic elite in Latin America’s largest country.

However, lawyer Janaina Paschoal, the author of the impeachment request against Rousseff, told senators in her closing arguments that the trial should focus on the corruption and economic turmoil under Rousseff’s government.

“The world needs to know that we are not just voting about accounting issues,” Paschoal said, arguing along with most senators that Rousseff’s alleged budget crimes had contributed to a sharp downturn in Latin America’s largest economy.

If Rousseff is convicted, her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer, will lead the nation until the next presidential elections in 2018.

Temer, 75, has vowed to pull the economy out of its worst recession since the 1930s and implement austerity measures to plug a growing budget deficit that cost Brazil its investment-grade credit rating last year.

His main challenges, if confirmed as president, would include pushing an unpopular spending cap through Congress and balancing overdrawn government accounts without resorting to tax increases.

His government could also risk being caught up in an investigation over kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras that has ensnared dozens of politicians in the coalition that backed Rousseff.

The scandal, which has also tarnished Temer’s PMDB party, could hobble his efforts to restore economic confidence and political stability.

While senators disagreed on the merits of the accounting charges brought against Rousseff, most who took the podium held her responsible for Brazil’s crisis and said she must go.

“Maybe most Brazilians can’t explain the accusations, but they can tell you the consequences they felt in the flesh, through unemployment and years of recession,” said senator Cassio Cunha Lima.

For the second night in a row, Rousseff supporters marching in downtown Sao Paulo against her impeachment clashed with police who fired tear gas cannisters to disperse the crowd.

Final vote on Wednesday

The final vote in the trial, which paralysed Brazilian politics for the last nine months, is expected on Wednesday, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who is presiding over the process.

At least 66 of the chamber’s 81 senators registered to speak in the final debate. Lewandowski said he expected to end the session late on Tuesday and resume on Wednesday morning.

Temer, interim president since Congress opened impeachment proceedings in mid-May, is so confident of the trial’s outcome that he has planned an address to the nation on Wednesday.

He then plans to fly to China for a summit of the G20 group of leading economies, hoping to secure pledges of trade and investment, his aides say.

Workers Party senator Angela Portela said it was a sad day for Brazil’s democratic system because an elected president was being unjustly impeached. “This is not a fair trial. It is a political lynching,” she said.

Rousseff’s popularity fell into single figures this year, partly because of the massive graft scandal at Petrobras and partly due to a deep recession that many Brazilians blame on her government’s interventionist policies.

In an emotional speech on Monday, Rousseff compared the trial to her persecution under Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, when she was tortured by security services as a member of a leftist urban guerrilla group.

If the Senate convicts Rousseff, she would become the first Brazilian leader to be dismissed from office since 1992 when Fernando Collor de Mello resigned just before imminent impeachment for corruption.

Now a senator, Collor de Mello reminded his peers he had been acquitted by the Supreme Court and said he backed the removal of Rousseff to end the crisis she had led Brazil into.

(Reuters)