Brazil’s Rousseff appeals to high court to halt impeachment

Brazilian President Rousseff’s party will appeal to Supreme Court to halt impeachment proceedings

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech on December 2, 2015 at Planalto Palace in Brasilia.

Legislators from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's party were appealing Thursday to the Supreme Court to halt impeachment proceedings, in the first counter-blow of a political battle expected to paralyze Latin America's biggest country.

The morning after the speaker of the lower house of Congress triggered the impeachment process against Rousseff on grounds that she illegally manipulated government accounts, her Workers' Party sprang into action.

Paulo Pimenta, a Workers' Party deputy, told AFP the party was filing complaints targeting Speaker Eduardo Cunha, whose opponents describe his launch of the impeachment as an attempt to escape his own legal and political problems.

"We are studying a series of measures that aim to block the process," Pimenta said.

As speaker, Cunha alone has authority to accept or turn down petitions for the president's impeachment and late Wednesday he accepted one filed by several lawyers alleging that Rousseff used illegal methods to mask holes in the government budget.

Cunha himself is fighting for his political life after having been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes and hiding money in Swiss bank accounts. He now faces being stripped by the lower house ethics committee of his speaker's post.

Rousseff has said she is confident she will survive the assault and her allies told O Globo newspaper that they have enough votes to block an impeachment vote.

However, with Rousseff deeply unpopular and recession threatening to turn into depression, analysts expect the country to plunge into a prolonged period of political turmoil and government paralysis.

Cunha was expected later Thursday to order the first step in the long impeachment procedure -- the creation of a special committee featuring representatives of all the parties in the lower house.

The 66-strong committee will then decide whether the case should go to a vote in the full house.

If a two-thirds majority approves, it then goes to the upper house for an impeachment trial, where another two-thirds majority would force Rousseff from office.

Analysts say the whole process -if it passes the many legal hurdles along the way- could take as much as six or seven months.