The Brazilian Senate has opened the impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff hear witnesses for and against the populist leader who is expected to be removed from office next week on charges of breaking budget laws.
Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, will appear before the 81 senators on Monday to defend herself, but her opponents are confident they have more than the 54 votes needed to convict her.
The final vote expected on late Tuesday or the early hours of Wednesday 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.
A poll published by O Globo newspaper on Thursday showed that 51 senators were committed to voting to dismiss Rousseff, with only 19 supporting her and 11 undecided.
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’. Temer aides said they expect at least 60 senators to vote against Rousseff.
If he is confirmed president by Rousseff’s ouster, Temer would face a daunting task to steer Latin America’s largest economy out of its worst recession since the Great Depression and plug a budget deficit that topped 10% of GDP.
Rousseff is charged with spending without Congressional approval and manipulating government accounts to disguise the extent of the deficit in the run-up to her 2014 re-election.
Financial markets have rallied on prospects of a more market friendly government, with the real currency rising around 30% 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.
A draft budget for next year is not expected in Congress until August 31, after the Senate vote, by which time Temer could have more political leverage to push through unpopular austerity measures.
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 September 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 said she has refused to resign to make the point that she is being ousted illegally.
“I committed no crime. To stop this 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.
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.
A sign that Rousseff is not expecting a favorable verdict next week is that she has begun to move her personal belongings out of the presidential residence in Brasília to her home in Porto Alegre.
Brazilian Senators launched the impeachment trial of suspended president Dilma Rousseff on Thursday expected to end 13 years of populist rule in Latin America’s biggest economy.
The friendly spirit of the Rio Olympic Games faded and tension returned as the emotionally charged affair neared its climax, with Rousseff facing removal from office within days.
Chief justice Ricardo Lewandowski declared the trial open and later briefly suspended it as senators yelled at each other while debating procedural matters.
The media calculate that a majority of Senators will find Rousseff, 68, guilty of cooking the budget books to mask the depth of economic problems during her 2014 reelection campaign. If she is removed from office, her center-right former vice president turned rival Michel Temer will be sworn in to serve until 2018.
“Senators, now you must turn into judges and set aside your ideological, partisan and personal positions,” Lewandowski told the house. But the impeachment affair is heavily politically charged.
Rousseff’s rivals blame her for economic chaos and are out to crush her Workers’ Party (PT).
“I am going to vote for impeachment, which is a political instrument that permits us to remove from power anyone who is misusing it,” said Simone Tebet, a senator from Temer’s PMDB party.
Rousseff’s ally and predecessor, PT founder Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in a speech in Rio: “Today begins a week of national shame.”
Rousseff has sworn to resist what she calls a coup. “We will fight to reinforce democracy in our country with the same force that I fought against the military dictatorship,” she told supporters in Brasília.
In Thursday’s opening session, her allies voiced procedural objections in vain before the first evidence was heard.
The trial will climax Monday when the president, who was suspended from office in May, addresses the Senate herself for the first time.
A vote is then expected within 48 hours, with a two-thirds majority of the 81 senators required to bring Rousseff down.
A huge metal barricade was set up on the esplanade outside Congress to separate rival demonstrators, with large protests expected Monday.
Inside the chamber, many senators can barely disguise their eagerness to finish Rousseff off.
The charges against her focus on her use of unauthorized state loans to cover budget gaps. She argues that the practice has long been accepted by a succession of governments.
Unofficially, Rousseff is taking the blame for Brazil’s slide into economic decline, mixed with a giant corruption scandal over state oil giant Petrobras.
Temer, who has served as acting president since May, is hardly more popular than Rousseff. A recent opinion poll found only 14% of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job.
However, his center-right coalition and choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can get the economy back on track.