Brazil’s Supreme Court suspends Rousseff impeachment
At the end of a day of political drama and chaos on Tuesday, the court in Brasilia suspended the special commission that had just been formed to recommend to Congress whether Rousseff should be removed from office.
The suspension, made in response to an appeal from the Communist Party of Brazil, which is allied to the leftist Workers’ Party of Rousseff, is in effect until next Wednesday when the court will meet to make a ruling.
The appeal claimed irregularities in the way the commission was formed, with Rousseff loyalists complaining that opposition leaders had unfairly managed to force out members who were more sympathetic to the president.
“The court understood that the allegations are relevant. There is the risk that everything which has been done would come to nothing. So they suspended all work of the commission until December 16,” Ademar Borges, a Communist Party lawyer, told AFP.
This gave much needed breathing space to Rousseff, who less than a year into her second term is fighting for her political life.
Brazil’s first female president, a moderate leftist, is accused of illegal budgeting maneuvers, but says the practices were long accepted by previous governments. She calls the attempt to bring her down a “coup.”
– Unrest –
The turmoil is stirring passions across the South American country of 204 million people, where Rousseff’s Workers’ Party has been in power since 2003 with the help of its often uncomfortable coalition partner, the centrist PMDB.
Nationwide opposition rallies are planned Sunday and on Tuesday Rousseff supporters marched in central Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Olympics.
Political uncertainty is also adding to the economic mess, with GDP down 4.5 percent in the third quarter year-on-year, and the national currency down a third against the dollar this year. A vast corruption scandal centered on state oil giant Petrobras has also put a hole in investor confidence.
With only 10 percent popularity ratings Rousseff has little political muscle, even if supporters say that the charges against her are far from the level justifying impeachment. On Tuesday, 16 of the country’s 27 state governors declared that the impeachment case lacks constitutional foundation.
Rousseff was left reeling by indications in a leaked letter that her vice president Michel Temer, leader of the PMDB, could withdraw his support because he felt she had shown “absolute lack of confidence” in him. If Rousseff is forced from office, Temer would become interim president.
Rousseff and Temer were reported by Globo newspaper to be planning to meet Wednesday in what was described as an attempt at reconciliation.
Hours later after the letter was released, the architect of the impeachment campaign, PMDB member Eduardo Cunha, oversaw the formation of the impeachment commission, resulting in a body dominated by opponents to Rousseff.
Presidential backers were furious and tried to impede the formation, even reportedly smashing electronic voting machines. Dozens of congressional deputies shouted and shoved each other in chaotic scenes broadcast live on television.
The commission’s job is to send a recommendation to the full lower house, which will then vote. A two thirds majority would be required for the house to send the case on to the Senate, where a trial would be convened, again requiring a two thirds majority to convict Rousseff.
– Beginning of end? –
Michael Mohallen at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said “it’s still early to say this is the beginning of the end for Rousseff.”
But Rubens Figueiredo, a politics professor at the University of Sao Paulo, said “it was a terrible start for the government.”
Both sides of the debate have promised to take to the streets in an attempt to pressure Congress during what could potentially turn into months of intrigue if the impeachment procedure goes the full course.
Parallel to the drama over Rousseff is a battle by her chief antagonist, Cunha, to keep his own post as speaker of the lower house.
Cunha is one of many politicians and leading executives sucked into the Petrobras corruption probe and has been charged with taking millions of dollars in bribes and holding secret Swiss bank accounts.
He denies the charges, which he says are politically motivated. However, the lower house ethics committee was due to meet Wednesday on whether to eject Cunha.
Cunha is widely accused of having used the impeachment battle as a way of taking revenge against the government and prolonging his own influence.