THE AMERICAS

Rousseff makes last-minute bid to halt impeachment

Senate expected on Wednesday to approve putting Brazilian president on trial

Protests against the Rousseff impeachment process.REUTERS / ATLAS (atlas)

In a last-minute bid to halt the impeachment process against her, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has lodged an appeal with the country’s Federal Supreme Court. If the court rejects the appeal, as seems likely, the Senate will begin debating whether to oust her on Wednesday, in what will likely be a marathon session. The polls suggest that a majority of the 81-member upper house will vote to suspend her from office for the duration of the trial, leaving her in political limbo for the coming six months while Vice-President Michel Temer runs the country.

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Rousseff’s lawyers will allege that the impeachment is the personal vendetta of former Congress speaker Eduardo Cunha, who last week was removed from his post pending a judicial investigation into corruption allegations against him. They will also tell the Federal Supreme Court that Cunha initiated the impeachment process on December 2, 2015 just hours after a group of deputies from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party voted in favor of the investigation into his Swiss bank accounts.

The appeal to the Supreme Court is just the latest twist in a long-running saga that saw the acting speaker of Congress, Wladir Maranhão, annul the impeachment on Monday morning, citing voting irregularities during the vote in the lower house on April 17, only to rescind his decision that same evening.

Do you know what the whole world is thinking about us? That this is a joke. There it is, for the whole world to see, our sad and impoverished war of factions

Joaquim Barbosa,  former president of the Federal Supreme Court

Maranhão’s move only serves to highlight the fragility of Brazilian politics, as Joaquim Barbosa, a former president of the Federal Supreme Court, noted on Monday: “Do you know what the whole world is thinking about us? That this is a joke. And it is. There it is, for the whole world to see, our sad and impoverished war of factions: one humiliation after another.”

Maranhão is a secondary political figure in Brazil, and is assumed to have tried to halt the impeachment process on the orders of Flávio Dino, the Communist Party governor of his home state, also called Maranhão, and a Rousseff supporter.

But Maranhão soon ran into trouble within his own party, the center-right Progressive Party, which threatened to expel him, forcing him to make a humiliating U-turn.

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Assuming the Senate approves the impeachment process, upper house speaker Renan Calheiros will inform Rousseff late on Wednesday evening of the outcome of the vote and that she must now stand down for the duration of the hearing. For the next 180 days senators will decide whether she manipulated the government’s accounts in 2014 to disguise a widening budget deficit as she campaigned for re-election.

If that happens, Temer, of the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), a former ally of Rousseff and now her bitterest enemy, will take over. Media reports suggest that he has already put together a new cabinet that will impose an austerity program and try to attract investment into Brazil’s recession-hit economy, while at the same time making it impossible for Rousseff to return to office.

The road to impeachment

December 2, 2015. Former Congressional speaker Eduardo Cunha accepts a request to begin impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff, who is accused of manipulating the government's accounts.

March 15, 2016. Delcídio de Amaral, a former Workers' Party senator, accuses members of his own party and the opposition of involvement in a huge money laundering scheme at the state oil company Petrobras, among them Rousseff and former president Lula da Silva.

March 4. Police search Da Silva's house and take him away for questioning on corruption charges for three hours.

March 13. Brazilians take to the streets of cities throughout the country demanding that Rousseff stand down and calling for Lula's arrest.

April 17. Brazil's Congress approves a motion to impeach Rousseff, putting the final decision in the hands of the Senate, which votes on Wednesday.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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