Brazil’s Rousseff in last-ditch attempt against impeachment
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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took her battle to survive impeachment to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, in a last-ditch attempt to stay in office a day before the Senate is expected to vote to try her for breaking budget laws.
Attorney General Eduardo Cardozo, the government’s top lawyer, asked the Supreme Court to annul impeachment proceedings, his office said.
Earlier in the day, the acting speaker of the lower house of Congress withdrew his controversial decision to annul last month’s impeachment vote in the chamber. That meant Cardozo’s appeal to the highest court may be the president’s best hope of stopping the process from moving forward.
Speaker Eduardo Maranhao withdrew his surprise decision on Tuesday, following complaints that it was illegal, clearing the way for a Senate vote on Wednesday to go ahead as planned.
If a simple majority agrees to put her on trial, Rousseff will be suspended from office on Thursday, leaving Vice President Michel Temer in power for up to six months during her trial.
If Rousseff were convicted and removed definitively, Temer would stay in the post until elections in 2018.
With the prospect looming of an end to 13 years of rule by Rousseff’s leftist Workers Party (PT), anti-impeachment protesters blocked roads with burning tires in demonstrations in Sao Paulo, the capital Brasilia and other cities, snarling morning traffic.
The PT and labor unions have called for a national strike to resist what they call a “coup” against democracy.
“President Dilma is determined to defend the Constitution because she was elected by the people and she will appeal to the Senate, the Supreme Court and Brazilian society,” Labor Minister Miguel Rossetto told reporters.
The legality of Rousseff’s imminent removal from office was questioned by the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who said he would seek the legal opinion of the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
Maranhao’s surprise decision on Monday threw Brazilian markets into disarray and threatened to drag out a painful political crisis with a constitutional standoff that could have ended up at the Supreme Court.
Brazil’s currency, the real, strengthened 1 percent and the benchmark Bovespa stock index rose 2 percent - reflecting investor hopes that a more market-friendly government will soon take over the recession-hit country under Temer, who is forming a cabinet with pro-business figures.
In a statement to the Senate, Maranhao did not cite any reason for backtracking on his decision to annul due to “procedural flaws” the lower house’s April 17 vote. The vote had overwhelmingly recommended that the Senate try Rousseff.
Maranhao, a little known politician before taking over last week after the removal of Eduardo Cunha for obstruction of a corruption investigation, faces expulsion from his center-right Progressive Party, which supports Rousseff’s impeachment.
Senate President Renan Calheiros said Monday that Maranhao was “playing with democracy” and vowed the Senate would press ahead with Wednesday’s vote. It is expected to take place at about 8 p.m. (2300 GMT) at the end of an all-day session of speeches.
Rousseff’s opponents have more than the 41 votes needed to launch her trial in the upper chamber, and they are confident they can muster two-thirds of the 81 senators, or 54, to unseat the unpopular president at the end of a trial that can last up to six months.
Temer may take over on Thursday
If she loses Wednesday’s vote, Rousseff will be served notice by the Senate on Thursday, at which point the suspended president must vacate the presidential palace. She can continue to live in the presidential residence during the trial.
Temer would step in as interim president as soon as she is given notice.
The impeachment process comes as Brazil is mired in its worst recession since the 1930s and shaken by the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal - which have paralyzed Rousseff’s second-term administration.
Rousseff has steadfastly denied committing any impeachable crime and has vowed to fight impeachment by all means legally possible. She has dismissed calls for her resignation.
The impeachment process is unfolding as investigators pursue a separate, long-running probe into a vast kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras.
“Operation Carwash” has ensnared dozens of top politicians and jailed chief executives from Brazil’s biggest construction firms for paying billions in bribes to lock up bloated building contracts.
The political crisis has hit at a time when Brazil would want to be shining on the world stage, as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.