BRASILIA Brazil’s Senate opened the final session in an impeachment trial expected to dismiss President Dilma Rousseff from office on Wednesday and draw the curtain on 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule in Latin America’s largest nation.
Senate aides said that after senators established the final conditions for the vote, a verdict was expected at around 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. local time (1600-1700 GMT).
Rousseff’s supporters seemed resigned to the likelihood that more than two-thirds of the 81-member Senate would convict her of breaking budget laws, the threshold for her dismissal.
Brazil’s first female president has denied any wrongdoing and said the impeachment process was aimed at protecting the interests of the country’s economic elite and rolling back social programs that lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty.
Her opponents, however, hailed the chance to turn the page on a drawn-out political crisis, the country’s worst recession in generations and a sweeping corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
If Rousseff is convicted, a tricky transition awaits her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer, who has served as interim president since the Senate trial began in May and will finish out her term to the end of 2018.
Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, said in a Twitter message that the government expects 60 to 61 votes against Rousseff, a comfortable majority that would confirm Temer in office.
Temer has vowed to boost an economy that has shrunk for six consecutive quarters and implement austerity measures to plug a record budget deficit, which cost Brazil its investment-grade credit rating last year.
Earlier in the day, the government said gross domestic product contracted 0.6 percent in the second quarter, putting the economy on track to post its longest and harshest recession in more than a century.
Still, expectations that the political stalemate could end soon with Rousseff’s impeachment helped bolster investment, which expanded in the second quarter for the first time in three years.
NOT AN EASY PATH
But even an overwhelming vote to remove Rousseff would not mean an easy path for Temer, due to signs of clear resistance in Congress to his proposals to cap public spending and reform public pensions.
His government also risks getting entangled in the sweeping investigation of kickbacks at Petrobras that has already has ensnared dozens of politicians in Rousseff’s coalition.
The scandal, which also has tarnished Temer’s fractious Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), could hobble efforts to restore stability to Brazilian politics and confidence in the economy.
Temer is so sure of the trial’s outcome that he is planning an address to the nation on Wednesday, his aides said. It would follow his expected swearing-in by Congress and a Cabinet meeting to outline his policy priorities.
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.
Rousseff was accused of using money from state banks to bolster spending during an election year in 2014. Wrapping up the Senate trial on Tuesday, her opponents called for her removal not just for breaking budget rules but for plunging Brazil into political and economic crisis.
Rousseff’s popularity fell into single figures in polls this year due to the Petrobras graft investigation and the 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 convicted by the Senate, Rousseff would become the first Brazilian leader to leave office due to impeachment since 1992, when Fernando Collor de Mello resigned before a final vote in his trial for corruption.
(Additional reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello, Alonso Soto and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Brad Haynes and Guillermo Parra-Bernal in São Paulo; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Brad Haynes; Editing by Paul Simao and Jeffrey Benkoe)
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