Brazil on edge as impeachment vote looms | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 17.04.2016
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Brazil on edge as impeachment vote looms

With Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment, the atmosphere in the country is tense. Ironically, some of those behind the proceedings are, unlike Rousseff herself, facing criminal charges.

An old English proverb says, "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Either the saying has never been translated into Portuguese, or Brazilian lawmakers have a lot of chutzpah - or both.

A rancorous three-day debate in Brazil's lower house of Congress over whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff is expected to culminate Sunday with a vote from the assembly, where well over half of the members are themselves the focus of criminal probes, mainlyy related to corruption.

Among those under investigation are Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer. He is accused of being involved in illegal ethanol dealings. Once a Rousseff ally, Temer, who would become interim president if Rousseff were impeached, is now among those baying for the president's head.

The country's third-in-command is the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha. While he has been busy orchestrating Rousseff's impeachment trial, prosecutors have charged him with taking millions of dollars in bribes, stemming from a massive embezzlement scheme at the giant state oil company Petrobras. Oh, and he is also accused of squirreling the money away in Switzerland.

By contrast, Rousseff is under no criminal indictment, and it is far from certain that the impeachment allegation against her - that she used an accounting sleight-of-hand to make the state's budget appear healthier - even amounts to a crime.

At least one international institution, the Organization of American States (OAS), finds Rousseff's impeachment troubling. The OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has spoken of the irony of a president being impeached by a parliament in which many members are themselves under criminal investigation, or actually facing charges.

"Here we have a person who has no investigation, no complaint, no indictment in any court and we find among those who will judge her in Congress people who have been accused, are under investigation and have cases pending," Almagro told journalists on Friday after meeting with Rousseff in Brazil.

Indeed, according to the NGO Transparencia Brasil, 58 percent of the 513 deputies in the lower house face or have faced criminal charges. Many of the charges involve corruption, but also include murder and rape.

A sputtering economy

Rousseff's political problems appear to be emanating from a severely troubled economy. Where she once enjoyed approval ratings approaching 80 percent, public support has evaporated - to little more than 10 percent.

Rousseff supporters shout and raise their fists to demonstrate against her impeachment.

Rousseff supporters demonstrate against her impeachment

The economy contracted by nearly 4 percent last year and looks set for an equally dismal performance this year. The currency, the real, has lost half of its value since 2012.

For years, Brazil ran modest annual deficits, usually below 3 percent of gross domestic product. But that figure jumped to 6 percent in 2014, and ballooned to 10.3 percent last year amid a shrinking economy.

On the OAS website, Almagro called Rousseff's impeachment a political witch-hunt.

"There is no criminal accusation against the president; rather, she has been accused of the poor administration of public resources in 2014," he said. "This is an accusation that is political in character, and that does not merit an impeachment process."

Inside the raucous chamber on Friday, Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo addressed Congress in defense of Rousseff, calling the impeachment process a "violent act with no parallel" against democracy.

"History will never forgive those who broke with democracy," Cardozo said, as ruling lawmakers shouted: "There won't be a coup."

General Attorney Jose Eduardo Cardozo argues against impeachment, raising he right arm, in the lower house of Congress.

Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo argues against impeachment in the lower house session of the Congress

The political crisis has deeply divided Brazilian society, although the latest poll suggests two-thirds of Brazilians favor impeachment. But large-scale demonstrations, both for and against Rousseff, are expected across the country over the weekend, and police are making plans to keep the opposing demonstrators apart.

Rousseff to rally supporters

Rousseff is expected to rally thousands of her supporters in the capital on Saturday.

In order for her impeachment to proceed to the Senate, two-thirds (342) of the members of the chamber of deputies' 513 members must vote to impeach. The results are uncertain, although it appears her political opponents have enough votes to prevail.

Should that happen, then the impeachment procedure advances to the upper house of Congress - the Senate. If the 81 senators vote by a simple majority to accept the case, Rousseff will formally have been impeached and immediately be suspended from office.

The timing of such a vote is uncertain. The senate could take up to 180 days to hold a vote, but it appears that it would more likely occur in May.

If two-thirds (54) of the 81 senators vote against Rousseff during her impeachment, then she will have been found guilty and will be stripped of her political rights. She would also be barred from seeking elected office for eight years.

Vice President Temer would then be confirmed as president for the rest of Rousseff's term, which ends December 31, 2018.

Congressman Rogerio Rosso, who chaired the lower house committee that backed Rousseff's impeachment, is worried about the potential for violence in the capital, especially after the vote on Sunday.

"I am very worried," Rosso said, "that there will be violence, depending on the result of the vote and the number of people who gather in Brasilia."

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