World 27.8.2016 10:34 am

Rousseff allies fight impeachment in Brazil turmoil

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

About two-thirds of the senators have current or past brushes with the law

Angry quarrels erupted at suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial Friday, while her key ally, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, faced corruption charges on a day of turmoil for Latin America’s largest country.

Day two of Rousseff’s Senate trial in the capital Brasilia began with shouting matches that forced Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski to put the session temporarily on hold until tempers calmed.

Senate President Renan Calheiros called the row, prompted by a Rousseff loyalist’s questioning of the notoriously corrupt Senate’s moral authority, “a demonstration of infinite stupidity.”

This senate “is a madhouse!” Calheiros said.

About two-thirds of the senators have current or past brushes with the law, according to corruption watchdog Transparencia Brasil.

Rousseff, 68, is accused of breaking the law by taking unauthorized state bank loans to cover up budgetary shortfalls during her 2014 re-election.

She says the budgetary maneuvers were legal, describing herself as victim of a right-wing power grab after 13 years’ rule by her leftist Workers’ Party.

Witnesses for the defense were called Friday following the trial’s opening day Thursday, when the case against Rousseff was presented.

One witness, economist Luiz Gonzaga Belluzo, insisted that Rousseff did not violate the law, and that ousting her would be “an attack on democracy.”

The session ended at 0200 GMT Saturday, and is set to resume at 1300 GMT.

Rousseff herself is planning to testify Monday in a dramatic last-ditch attempt to save herself before senators vote — with analysts widely predicting her defeat.

– Lula’s troubles deepen –

At stake is not just Rousseff’s fate, but that of the once mighty Workers’ Party.

Its founder, Lula, faced his own mounting problems after police Friday filed a request for corruption and money laundering charges linking the influential ex-president to a vast embezzlement and bribery scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin Martins said Lula was innocent and targeted by a politically motivated case.

“Once again there is an act that by a strange coincidence occurs at a politically important moment for the country,” he told a news conference in Sao Paulo.

“That makes me think that this play, apart from being a fiction, has a clear political connotation.”

Although prosecutors and a judge must still approve the recommendation for Lula to go to trial, the police filing represented another blow for a man seeing his lifelong project to build Brazil’s left put in peril.

Adding to the drama, Lula was planning to travel from his home city of Sao Paulo to Brasilia to support Rousseff when she confronts her accusers in the Senate on Monday.

Under current plans, a vote would then take place within 48 hours after the senators’ final speeches. A pro-impeachment vote would see Rousseff immediately removed from office.

However, given the snail’s pace of the trial so far — with the first defense witness finishing only late afternoon Friday — it was not clear whether the schedule would change.

– Final vote count –

Two thirds of the Senate — 54 of the 81 senators — must back impeachment to remove Rousseff from office.

Her allies insist they can still sway a half dozen or so senators to prevent that happening, but analysts believe there is no appetite for allowing Rousseff to return to power.

And opponents of the former leftist guerrilla say they have the votes in the bag.

Senator Raimundo Lira, a strong backer of impeachment, told AFP that senators “have already made up their minds, and I don’t think there will be any change at the vote.”

If Rousseff goes, Michel Temer — Rousseff’s former vice president turned bitter enemy — will be sworn in. He has already served as acting president since her suspension in May and moved quickly to shift Brazil away from the left, saying the country needs reform to rebuild its giant, crumbling economy.

It shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is forecast to drop a further 3.3 percent this year, a historic recession. Inflation stands at around nine percent and unemployment at 11 percent.

Temer is hardly more popular than Rousseff, however: a recent opinion poll found only 14 percent of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job.

bur-sms/ch/ser

poll

today in print