Brazil’s president fights to survive on impeachment vote eve

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (pictured) has accused her vice president, Michel Temer, and the house speaker of "treachery" and coup-plotting
AFP

Brasília (AFP) – Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff fought for survival Saturday, lobbying congressional deputies behind closed doors on the eve of a vote that could send her to face an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Rousseff, the country’s first female head of state, hit out at what she calls a “coup” and canceled a planned appearance with demonstrators in the capital Brasilia to focus on trying to win over lawmakers.

“She will stay (at her official residence) for the last negotiations for Sunday’s vote,” a presidential advisor told AFP.

The leader of the impeachment drive, Rousseff’s vice-president-turned-rival Michel Temer also switched plans, leaving Sao Paulo to return to Brasilia in a move that local media said indicated a tightening contest.

The opposition needs 342 votes of the 513-seat lower house of Congress, or two thirds, to send Rousseff to the Senate for a trial that could end in her being forced from office. Anything less and Rousseff would defeat the measure.

Latest estimates published by the three main Brazilian newspapers showed the pro-impeachment camp has already amassed enough support.

However, intense negotiations and the possible pressure from what were expected to be large crowds of demonstrators across Brazil on Sunday could still shift momentum in either direction.

Rousseff is accused of illegal accounting maneuvers to mask government shortfalls during her 2014 reelection. She defends her behavior by saying that previous governments used similar measures.

If Rousseff is defeated Sunday, the Senate is expected to vote to open a trial, probably in May, at which point the leftist president would have to stand down for 180 days, while Temer took over. Another two-thirds vote in the Senate would force her to step down.

Even if Rousseff escapes with her presidency, she would preside over a deeply divided country where her government has only 10 percent approval ratings and the powerful opposition blames her for the worst recession in more than a generation.

– ‘Like the stock market’ –

The scramble by both sides ahead of the vote, which starts at about 1800 GMT, reached a fever pitch Saturday.

Rousseff’s mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who faces corruption allegations linked to the graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras, told thousands of supporters in Brasilia that nothing could be taken for granted.

“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.

A leading opposition lawmaker, Mendonca Filho, told AFP that he was confident of getting the 342 votes. “But we can’t imagine that it will be easy,” he said. “We have to remain vigilant.”

Authorities are deploying more than 4,000 members of the emergency services in Brasilia on Sunday to separate rival protesters, who will also be divided by a long metal barrier that has rapidly become a symbol of the split in Latin America’s biggest country.

“We came to join the defense of democracy and the government that was legitimately elected in 2014,” said one Rousseff supporter, Tiago Almeida, 35, a metal worker from the state of Sao Paulo.

– Corruption and coup claims –

Sunday’s impeachment showdown has stirred levels of bitterness rarely seen in Brazil, which only returned to democracy in 1985 after two decades of military dictatorship in which Rousseff was imprisoned and tortured for participating in a Marxist guerrilla group.

Rousseff, 68, on Saturday called the case against her “the biggest legal and political fraud in the history of the country.”

“They want to convict an innocent woman and save the corrupt,” Rousseff added in a column she wrote in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo, referring to criminal charges faced by numerous lawmakers in the scandal-ridden legislature.

“What’s their legitimacy?” she asked.

Rousseff has previously accused Temer and the powerful speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, of being the “chief and deputy chief” of a coup plot.

But opposition lawmakers say Rousseff and her predecessor Lula allowed the huge Petrobas corruption scandal to develop, brought the economy to its knees, and ushered in paralyzing social divisions.

Ahead of the vote, lawmakers continued a rowdy marathon debate, with opposition deputies waving “ciao dear” and wrapping themselves in the yellow-green Brazilian colors. 

“If this is not approved, another impeachment measure will be presented. This will keep going,” said lawmaker Mauro Pereira from the PMDB, Brazil’s biggest party.

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