Brazil president Rousseff faces impeachment vote

Brasilia, May 11

Brazil’s Senate opened debate today ahead of a vote on suspending President Dilma Rousseff and launching an impeachment trial that could bring down the curtain on 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America’s biggest country.

Even allies of Rousseff, 68, said she had no chance of surviving the vote. She is accused of illegal accounting maneuvers but says the charges are trumped up and amount to a coup d’etat by her centre-right opponents.

Debate was expected to last all day with a vote during the night or early hours of Thursday. A simple majority in the 81-member Senate would be enough to trigger Rousseff’s six-month suspension pending judgment, in which a two thirds majority would force her from office permanently.

Senate President Renan Calheiros, who was overseeing the proceedings, told journalists that impeachment would be “traumatic” for Brazil, which is already struggling with the worst recession in decades and a corruption scandal that has ripped apart the political and business elite.“The process of impeachment... is long, traumatic and does not produce quick results,” Calheiros warned.

Rousseff’s government lawyer lodged a last-ditch appeal with the Supreme Court on Tuesday to block the vote, but the court had not even responded before senators sat down in their futuristic building in the capital Brasilia.

“There won’t be any miracle. She’ll be suspended for six months and then we’ll open the debate on the merits” of the case, Paulo Paim, a senator of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT), told reporters.

He said the impeachment drive was “a symbol of Brazilian politicians’ incompetence, to accept a tainted process against a president they know is honest.”

But Magno Malta, a senator of the opposition PR party, said impeachment was needed to heal a sick country.

“As soon as we vote for impeachment, the dollar will fall (strengthening Brazil’s currency), our stock market will rise and the patient will breathe again,” said Malta.

“The doctor will say the patient is showing signs of life and is in intensive care,” he added. “But it is a long, painful process which depends on all of us.”

Rousseff is accused of breaking budgetary laws by taking loans to boost public spending and mask the sinking state of the economy during her 2014 re-election campaign.

She says the accounting maneuvers were standard practice in the past. She describes the impeachment as a coup mounted by her vice president, Michel Temer, who will take over if she is suspended.

Temer, whose centre-right PMDB party broke off its uneasy partnership with Rousseff’s party, has already prepared a new government. He said his priority will be to rescue the economy, now in its worst recession for decades.

Rousseff vowed to resist. “I am going to fight with all my strength, using all means available,” she told a women’s forum in Brasilia on Tuesday.

Rousseff called her opponents “people (who) can’t win the presidency through a popular vote”.