Brazil’s senate set to impeach president Rousseff

Rousseff has said her impeachment is illegal and branded it a ‘coup’

Embattled Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff speaking at a women’s conference in Brasilia on Tuesday. She is facing an impeachment vote in the senate. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Embattled Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff speaking at a women’s conference in Brasilia on Tuesday. She is facing an impeachment vote in the senate. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

 

President Dilma Rousseff was expected to become Brazil’s first leader in more than two decades to be removed from office as the senate began a session on Wednesday that will vote on whether to try her for breaking budget rules.

If her opponents garner a simple majority in the 81-seat senate Ms Rousseff (68) will be suspended for up to six months during her trial, ending 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule in Latin America’s largest economy.

Well over half of senators have told newspapers they will vote to try Ms Rousseff, and the first woman to lead Brazil is expected to depart the Planalto presidential palace on Thursday.

Senators started the voting session at mid-morning on Wednesday. Each member of the upper house will get the chance to speak. The final vote is expected to take place at around 10pm. (1am GMT on Thursday).

The prospect of business-friendly vice-president Michel Temer taking power has driven Brazilian financial markets sharply higher this year on hopes his team could cut a massive fiscal deficit and return the economy to growth.

Ms Rousseff has seen her popularity crushed by a long-running inquiry into a vast kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras at a time when she was chairwoman of the company. This has also tainted her political allies.

The political crisis has deepened Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s. It comes less than two years after Ms Rousseff was narrowly re-elected to a second four-year term and at a time when Brazil hoped to be shining on the world stage as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of Brazilians want to see Ms Rousseff impeached. Yet the surveys also indicate scant popular support for Mr Temer.

“I voted for Dilma, I believe in her as a leader, but I also think she has done such a bad job that it is time for her to go,” said Leticia Britto, a 23-year-old business student from Sao Paulo, visiting Brasilia for a national conference on women’s rights. “The best way forward would be to call for new elections.”

Mr Temer is expected to announce a new cabinet as soon as Thursday. Leaning toward a liberal economic policy, he has picked former central bank chief Henrique Meirelles as finance minister.

If the Rousseff case goes to a trial in the senate, presided over by the head of the supreme court, her opponents are confident they can muster the two-thirds of votes needed to unseat her. Mr Temer would then fulfil the remainder of her mandate until elections in 2018.

Ms Rousseff, an economist who was tortured during Brazil’s long dictatorship for her role in a Marxist guerrilla group, has said her impeachment is illegal and branded it a “coup”. She has vowed to fight the process until the last minute, and her government appealed to the supreme court on Tuesday.

“I will not resign, that never crossed my mind,” Ms Rousseff said in a speech on Tuesday to cheers from supporters.

There are worries that the tense political situation may spark protests that could turn violent. On Tuesday anti-impeachment protesters blocked roads with burning tyres around Sao Paulo, the capital Brasilia, and other cities, snarling morning traffic and prompting clashes with police. The Workers Party and unions have called for a national strike. – (Reuters)