Brazil opens impeachment trial for President Rousseff

Brazil's suspended president will appear before 81 senators next week to defend herself in the impeachment trial, but her opponents are confident they have more than the 54 votes needed to convict her.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a meeting with people from pro-democracy movements in Brasilia, Brazil, August 24, 2016.

Brazil's Senate opened the impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday.

During the trial the Senate will hear witnesses for and against the leftist leader who is expected to be removed from office next week on charges of breaking budget laws.

Her foes in Congress introduced a measure last year to impeach and remove her. In April, the Chamber of Deputies approved it 367-137 and in May, the Senate voted 55-22 in favour. Rousseff was suspended and Vice President Michel Temer became interim president.


President of Brazil's Supreme Court, Ricardo Lewandowski and Brazil's Senate President Renan Calheiros speak during a discussion before the Senate votes on whether suspended President Dilma Rousseff should stand trial for impeachment, in Brasilia, Brazil.

Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, who was re-elected to a second four-year term in October 2014, will appear before the 81 senators next Monday to defend herself, but her opponents are confident they have more than the 54 votes needed to convict her in a trial presided over by Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski.

Her foes in Congress introduced a measure last year to impeach and remove her. In April, the Chamber of Deputies approved it 367-137 and in May, the Senate voted 55-22 in favour. Rousseff was suspended and Vice President Michel Temer became interim president.

Rousseff is accused of illegally shifting funds between government budgets. Opposition parties say that was to boost public spending and shore up support while masking the depths of deficits. Rousseff says other former presidents used similar accounting techniques.

Rousseff and her backers say impeachment is a "coup" by corrupt opposition lawmakers meant to derail investigations into into billions of dollars in kickbacks at the state oil company. They also argue that Brazil's ruling class wants to end 13 years of leftist government. Opponents say Rousseff's budget maneuvers aggravated the crisis in Latin America's largest economy.

"I committed no crime. To stop this from happening again, I must go to the Senate to defend Brazil's democracy, the political views that I advocate and the legitimate rights of the Brazilian people," suspended President Dilma Rousseff said.


Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff reads a letter to the country in Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, August 16, 2016.

Final vote 

Lewandowski said in his opening remarks that "everyone of you should vote as an individual and not according to party,"  reminding Senators that they had become judges and must put aside their political views.

The Supreme Court will preside witnesses from both sides to testify and senators are to cross-examine them.

If the final vote, which is expected late Tuesday or in the early hours of Wednesday next week, goes against Rousseff it would confirm her vice president, Michel Temer, as Brazil's new leader for the rest of her term through 2018, ending 13 years of left-wing Workers Party (PT) rule.

Temer aides said they expected at least 60 senators to vote against Rousseff.

Temer's right-leaning government held last-minute talks with senators and political parties to shore up votes against Rousseff, who has denied any wrongdoing and described efforts to oust her as a "coup." She has said such accounting practices were also commonly used by previous governments.

However, her trial has become a test of political support for Rousseff amid the deepest recession in at least 80 years in Brazil.


Senator Raimundo Lira speaks with Brazilian jurist Paschoal during a final session of debate and voting on suspended Rousseff's impeachment trial in Brasilia.

Steering Brazil out of recession 

If Temer is confirmed as president by Rousseff's ouster, he would face a daunting task: steering Latin America's largest economy out of its worst recession since the Great Depression and plug a budget deficit that topped 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Financial markets have rallied on prospects of a more market-friendly government, with the real currency rising around 30 percent against the dollar this year. Still, investors and members of Temer's fragile coalition are concerned he has yet to unveil measures to drastically curb the deficit.


Brazil's interim President Michel Temer reacts during a meeting with representatives of the construction industry at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, August 11, 2016.

A draft budget for next year is not expected in Congress until Aug. 31, after the Senate vote, by which time Temer could have more political leverage to push through unpopular austerity measures.

What to expect 

Temer's team has sought to speed up the trial so he can set about restoring confidence in a once-booming economy and remove any doubts about his legitimacy as Brazil's president.

If Rousseff is removed, Temer must be sworn in by the Senate. He is then expected to address the nation before heading to the summit of the G20 group of leading economies in Hangzhou, China on Sept. 4-5 on his first trip abroad.

In her last rally before the trial, in the auditorium of a bank workers union in Brasilia on Wednesday night, Rousseff supporters chanted "Out with Temer."

Rousseff, who once belonged to a left-wing guerrilla group, said she has refused to resign to make the point that she is being ousted illegally.

"I committed no crime. To stop this from happening again, I must go to the Senate to defend Brazil's democracy, the political views that I advocate and the legitimate rights of the Brazilian people," she said.


A person stands on an image of Brazil's interim President Michel Temer during a demonstration against the impeachment of Brazil's former President Dilma Rousseff on Copacabana before the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

Yet even Rousseff's Workers Party, hurt by corruption scandals and her dismal economic record, has distanced itself from her last-minute call for new elections to resolve Brazil's political crisis.

In a sign that Rousseff is not expecting a favourable verdict next week, she has begun to move her personal belongings out of the presidential residence in Brasilia to her home in Porto Alegre.

Source: 
AP, Reuters