Brazil’s impeachment battle is set to reach a dramatic climax this week as the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, makes a last stand before a hostile and corruption-plagued Senate.
The Workers party leader, who was suspended from the presidency in May, is scheduled to testify in her own defence on Monday morning, a day or two before the upper house is expected to vote for her permanent ejection from office for alleged fiscal irregularities.
The final face-to-face encounter between accusers and accused comes after a period of protracted political turmoil that cast a shadow over the Olympics, stirred up massive street protests and worsened the recession plaguing Latin America’s biggest economy.
Escalating what has already proved a rowdy political trial, Rousseff will be grilled by opponents from the centre-right coalition of the interim president, Michel Temer, a former running mate from the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB) who conspired to seize power less than half way through her mandate and now hopes to retain the presidency until at least the next election in 2018.
The last president to be impeached – Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 – resigned rather than face a final vote. But Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured during the military dictatorship, has vowed to fight to the end. The only thing that kills anti-democratic parasites is the oxygen of debate, she told supporters last week.
Impeachment supporters believe a final vote – which is expected to be passed by the necessary two-thirds majority of the 81 senators on Tuesday or Wednesday – will provide catharsis and allow Temer’s administration to plot a new course for the nation.
Opponents say it is the culmination of a constitutional coup to end 13 years of Workers party rule, runs roughshod over the democratic choice of the 54 million voters who re-elected Rousseff in 2014, reverses progress towards gender and ethnic equality and is part of a plot to curtail the Lava Jato (car wash) corruption investigation that has implicated dozens of senior politicians.
The numbers are against the president. At the start of the senate impeachment process in May, Rousseff was defeated by 55 votes to 22, which was just one above the 54 that will be needed in the final vote. Newspaper forecasts suggest there has been little progress since then in swaying senators to switch sides, but Rousseff’s supporters have not given up hope of a last-minute reprieve and promise to fight to the end.
There will be a very strong debate because all sides are tense, one senator, Vanessa Grazziotin, told local media in a warning that Rousseff’s supporters in the upper house would not let the president go quietly like a lamb to the slaughter.
In the early years of her presidency, she was one of the most popular leaders in the world, with approval ratings of 92%. But Rousseff, a poor communicator who presided over several years of decline and upheaval, has become deeply unpopular with the electorate and for much of the past year her approval ratings have hovered around 10%.
Many of her allies, including the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, have been implicated in the Lava Jato investigation into corruption at Petrobras, which has tainted almost all of the major parties. As a former energy minister and head of her party, critics say, Rousseff should have known what was going on, but she has not been charged.
Instead, she is being impeached for window-dressing government accounts before the last election by issuing decrees on spending without congressional approval and waiting several months to reimburse a state-owned bank for a low-interest financing scheme for family farmers.
Senators must decide if this is a crime of responsibility that merits removal from office. Rousseff’s lawyers claim the argument against her is more political than legal. Similar fiscal irregularities went unpunished in previous national and regional administrations, but they are a pretext to remove a leader who has struggled to assert her authority.
There are widespread concerns about the way she has been elbowed out of power by her former running mate, Temer, who conspired against her even though he, as former vice-president, bore a similar share of responsibility for failed economic policies and widespread corruption.
Opinion polls suggest the interim president is almost as despised as his predecessor. Fora Temer! (Temer out) placards were prominently displayed during the Olympics. He was loudly booed during the opening ceremony, which was attended by far fewer foreign leaders than London 2012 or Beijing 2008 – a sign of international unease about the political situation in Brazil.
This was highlighted on Thursday by an open letter signed by 22 prominent overseas figures, including Stephen Fry, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, Arundhati Roy and Alan Cumming.
In a declaration of concern about the installation of an unelected government, the authors said: The legal basis for the ongoing impeachment is widely questionable and there is convincing evidence showing that the main drivers of the impeachment campaign are trying to remove the president in order to stop corruption investigations in which they themselves are involved.
When she makes an initial 30-minute address to the Senate from 9am, Rousseff is expected to present evidence for this claim. She has previously noted that the impeachment process was launched by the former house speaker Eduardo Cunha after the Workers party refused to protect him from corruption and perjury accusations in the congressional ethics committee. Tapes of secretly recorded conversations have also revealed that Temer’s most powerful ally in the upper house – the PMDB Senate leader Romero Jucá – was plotting to oust Rousseff because he wanted to curtail the Lava Jato investigation, which implicated him and dozens of other politicians in the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
Following the president’s statement, senators will begin their interrogation. It is likely to be a noisily partisan affair. Up to 20 supporters from each side will be invited into the chamber. Rousseff’s allies will include Lula, the former president, senior ministers and the musician Chico Buarque, who has been prominent at many anti-impeachment rallies. Their opponents will include leaders of the Vem Pra Rua (take to the streets) campaign and the libertarian Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement).
Several questions – including the first of the session from Katiá Abreu – will come from allies, which will provide an opportunity for the president to highlight the positives of her time in office. Since the Workers party gained power in 2003, tens of millions of Brazilians have moved out of poverty thanks to bolsa familia welfare payments, increased access to education and – until the last few years – a strong economy.
She will also declare once again her innocence of any crime. Her supporters also emphasise that Rousseff has a far cleaner record than that of many of her accusers in both the lower and upper house.
Last week, the Workers party senator Gleisi Hoffmann told the upper house that no one here had the moral ground to judge Rousseff. She was rebuked by the Senate president, Renan Calheiros, who said the debate was proving only that stupidity is infinite. As tensions rose, the chief justice of the supreme court, Ricardo Lewandowski – who is presiding over the political trial – had to call for a recess. He may well be forced to intervene again as tensions rise in the coming decisive days.
News Source TheGuardianNews