Brasília (AFP) – Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff launched a counter-offensive on Saturday to prevent her impeachment, seeking to personally lobby lawmakers to stop what she calls a “coup” bid by “corrupt” critics.
On the eve of a crucial vote in the lower house of Congress, the 68-year-old leftist leader reaffirmed her belief that she was the victim of a coup — a loaded word in a country ruled by the military from 1964 to 1985.
“The accusation against me in Congress is the biggest legal and political fraud in the history of the country,” Rousseff said in a video, calling on people to “mobilize.”
“They want to convict an innocent woman and save the corrupt,” Rousseff added in a column in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo, referring to criminal charges that several lawmakers face.
“What’s their legitimacy?” said Rousseff, whose approval rating has collapsed to around 10 percent.
Rousseff has accused her vice president, Michel Temer, and the House Speaker, Eduardo Cunha, of being the “chief and deputy chief” of a conspiracy to oust her. Both men, members of the centrist PMDB party, face their own legal troubles.
The political crisis is threatening to destabilize Latin America’s biggest economy.
Brazil is already struggling through a crippling recession and a major corruption scandal involving the state energy giant Petrobras while it prepares to host the Rio Olympics in four months.
Rousseff is accused of cooking the books to mask government shortfalls during her 2014 reelection. She defends her behavior by saying that previous governments used similar measures.
Rousseff had planned to address supporters outside the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia on Saturday, but she canceled her appearance in order to press her case to legislators.
“She will stay (at her official residence) for the last negotiations for Sunday’s vote,” a presidential advisor told AFP.
If she loses on Sunday, the measure will move to the Senate, which will decide whether to put her on trial, forcing her to step aside.
– Tight vote? –
Instead of Rousseff, thousands heard her predecessor and mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who faces corruption allegations linked to the graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
“The Brazilian elite don’t like democracy,” Lula told the crowd clad in the red colors of the Workers Party.
In a physical symbol of the country’s polarization, authorities placed a two-meter tall, one-kilometer long metal barrier in front of Congress to separate government supporters and impeachment backers who are expected to hold rival protests during the vote.
“We came to join the defense of democracy and the government that was legitimately elected in 2014,” said Rousseff supporter Tiago Almeida, 35, a metal worker from the state of Sao Paulo.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, continued a rowdy marathon debate ahead of Sunday’s vote, with opposition lawmakers waving “ciao dear” signs aimed at the president.
“If this is not approved, another impeachment measure will be presented. This will keep going,” said PMDB lawmaker Mauro Pereira.
With her coalition crumbling in recent weeks, the pro-impeachment camp appeared to get two-thirds majority — 342 out of 513 votes — needed to win, but the vote tightened late Friday, according to local media and Workers Party sources.
Lula, who has been lobbying lawmakers, told the rally that Congress members were constantly changing their minds.
“We can’t let them win 342 votes. It’s a war that goes up and down. It’s like the stock market. At one point one guy says he’s with us, then he’s not,” he said.
– OAS backing –
If the Senate decides to put Rousseff on trial, she will be replaced by Temer during the proceedings, which could last six months.
If Rousseff is found guilty, she would be ousted and Temer would finish her term, which ends in 2018.
But Temer has his own legal issues, with allegations that he was involved in illegal ethanol dealings.
Cunha, for his part, has been charged with taking millions of dollars in bribes linked to a massive embezzlement cartel centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Rousseff got support Friday from the visiting head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who said the impeachment bid “does not fit within the rules that govern this process.”
“There is no criminal accusation against the president, rather she has been accused of the poor administration of public resources in 2014. This is an accusation that is political in character, and that does not merit an impeachment process.”