Congress to vote on impeaching Rousseff in divided Brazil

Brazil Debates Rousseff's Future
Brazil Debates Rousseff's Future

BRASILIA (Reuters) -- Brazil's lower house of Congress will decide on Sunday whether to recommend impeaching President Dilma Rousseff on charges of manipulating budgetary accounts, in a vote that could hasten the end of 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule.

The political crisis, which comes amid Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s, has deeply divided the South American country and sparked an acrimonious fight between Rousseff and her Vice President Michel Temer, who would take over if she is dismissed.

In a frenzied round of last minute deal-making on Saturday, Rousseff appeared to have clawed back the votes of some wavering lawmakers but still appeared to lack the one-third of votes needed in the 513-seat lower house to avoid being sent for trial in the Senate.

Rousseff's charismatic predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, led the deal-making to keep her in office and drafted in governors from several states to pressure legislators on Saturday, swinging the momentum back in Rousseff's favor.

"The governors' participation is proving decisive," said Paulo Teixeira, one of the Workers' Party's leaders in the lower house.

Thousands of police were due to deploy in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, and in the mega-cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where hundreds of thousands of pro- and anti-impeachment demonstrators were expected to take to the streets.

A 2-meter (6.5-foot) high wall outside Congress, stretching for more than 1 km (0.6 of a mile) on the grassy esplanade between rows of ministries, showed the stark political divide in what remains one of the world's most unequal societies.

Polls suggest that more than 60 percent of Brazil's 200 million people support impeaching Rousseff, whose inner circle has been tainted by a vast corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.

The Workers Party, however, can still rely on strong support among millions of working class Brazilians, who credit its welfare programs with pulling their families out of poverty during the last decade.


The impeachment crisis has paralyzed activity in Brasilia, just four months before the country is due to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and as it seeks to battle an epidemic of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in newborns.

While Rousseff herself has not been personally charged with corruption, many of the lawmakers who will decide her fate on Sunday have.

Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group in Brasilia, says more than 300 of the legislators who will vote on Sunday - well over half the chamber - are under investigation for corruption, fraud or electoral crimes.

If Rousseff loses Sunday's vote, the Senate must decide whether there are legal grounds to hear the case against her, a decision expected in early May.

Should it agree to do so, Rousseff would be suspended from office and Temer would automatically take over.

Financial markets in Brazil have rallied strongly in recent weeks on hopes that Rousseff's dismissal would usher in a more business-friendly Temer administration. Sources close to the vice president told Reuters on Friday he was considering a senior executive at Goldman Sachs in Brazil for a top economic post.

Whoever governs the country in the coming months, however, will inherit a toxic political environment, a deeply divided Congress, rising unemployment and an expected contraction of four percent this year in the world's ninth largest economy.

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