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Impeachment trial opens against Brazil President Dilma Rousseff

Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and has sworn to resist what she calls a 'coup'. In photo: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks at a women's conference on May 10, 2016. Photograph: (Getty)

WION Brasilia, Brazil Aug 26, 2016, 12.16 AM (IST)
Brazil's senate began the impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff yesterday

The lengthy impeachment process has paralysed the politics of Latin America's largest nation and is expected to conclude with her removal from office next week.

The trial was declared open and briefly suspended later as senators shouted at each other while debating procedural matters.

Media anticipates 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 re-election campaign. If the trial decides against Rousseff, her centre-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," Chief justice Ricardo 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).
 
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 Inacio Lula da Silva, said in a speech in Rio: "Today begins a week of national shame."

'Fight for democracy'

Rousseff, who was tortured and imprisoned by the 1970s dictatorship for membership in a Marxist urban guerrilla group, has denied any wrongdoing and 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 late on Wednesday in Brasilia. Rousseff, who was suspended in May, has refused to resign. She has defended her actions by saying that previous governments have commonly used the accounting practices she was being put on trial for.

In yesterday's opening session, her allies voiced procedural objections in vain before the first evidence was heard. The President will address the senate herself in a climax to the trial on Monday. A two-thirds majority of the 81 senators are required to bring Rousseff down in a vote expected within 48 hours of her speech.
 
Unofficially, Rousseff is taking the blame for Brazil's slide into economic decline, mixed with a giant corruption scandal over state oil giant Petrobras.

Senator Raimundo Lira, a Temer ally and 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."

A survey published by O Globo newspaper yesterday showed that 52 senators were committed to voting to dismiss Rousseff, with only 19 supporting her and 10 undecided or not polled.

A huge metal barricade was set up on the esplanade outside Congress to separate rival demonstrators, with large protests expected on Monday. The charges against her focus on her use of unauthorised state loans to cover budget gaps.

Unofficially, Rousseff is taking the blame for Brazil's slide into economic decline, mixed with a giant corruption scandal over state oil giant Petrobras. Although Rousseff herself has not been accused of stealing from Petrobras, many of her close allies on the left, as well as opponents on the right, have been charged.

Daunting task

Temer, who has served as acting president since May, is hardly more popular than Rousseff.

A recent opinion poll found only 14 per cent of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job. However, his centre-right coalition and choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can get the economy back on track.

If confirmed president by Rousseff's ouster, Temer would face a daunting task: steering Latin America's largest economy out of recession and plugging a budget deficit that has topped 10 per cent of gross domestic product.

Brazilian assets have rallied on prospects of a more market-friendly government, with the currency rising around 30 per cent against the dollar this year. Still, investors and members of Temer's fragile coalition are concerned he has yet to implement measures to control the deficit. The economy shrank 3.8 per cent in 2015 and is forecast to drop about 3.3 per cent again this year, a historic recession. Inflation is at about 9 per cent and unemployment at 11 per cent .
 
Brazilian assets have rallied on prospects of a more market-friendly government, with the currency rising around 30 per cent against the dollar this year.

Temer's right-leaning government 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.

A draft budget for next year is not expected in Congress until Aug. 31, after the Senate votes, by which time Temer could have more political leverage to push through austerity measures.

Investors are concerned Temer might give in to pressure for spending increases such as pay hikes for public employees, including the nation's judges, a demand supported by Lewandowski.

Temer has proposed a constitutional limit on spending and a broad reform of Brazil's pension system to reverse a deteriorating fiscal outlook - moves applauded by credit rating agencies that last year stripped the country of its prized investment grade.

"While we expect the current administration to have a better chance of getting these reforms through Congress than the previous government, there is still no clear support to approve these measures," Moody's Investors Service said in a client note.

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 China on Sept. 4-5.
 
"I agree that Dilma must leave power. Leaders must be responsible for their actions," said Mara Campos, 50, waiting at a bus stop in Brasilia. "But I am very worried because this trial is traumatic."

(WION with inputs from agencies)
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