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Brazil’s Rousseff gets impeachment lifeline


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.  shfwire

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.<br />shfwire

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was thrown a lifeline by the Supreme Court in her fight against impeachment, while her chief antagonist faced troubles of his own Wednesday in Congress, where he is accused of corruption.

The impeachment rollercoaster took a dramatic turn late Tuesday when the Supreme Court slapped a week-long freeze on the special commission formed to recommend to Congress whether Rousseff should be removed from office.

The suspension was made in response to an appeal from Rousseff allies that the opposition had illegally insisted on secret votes — not the usual open ballots — while picking who would sit on the congressional commission.

The goal, according to the opposition, was to stack the body with anti-Rousseff deputies. Their recommendation would not be binding, but would set the tone for votes in the lower house and Senate on the president’s fate.

The court will rule next Wednesday and is not expected to scupper the whole impeachment process. However, even a delay was good news for Rousseff, who 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.”

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.

In the latest sign of the dismal economy, the government announced year-on-year inflation for November of 10.48 percent — the highest in 12 years.

– Rousseff foe in trouble –
In parallel with Rousseff’s struggles, her main foe, the speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha, is also trying to save his career.

Cunha, from the PMDB’s openly anti-Rousseff wing, is the architect of the impeachment drive and also oversaw the controversial session Tuesday to form the commission.

But in an illustration of the almost surreal level of corruption eating away at Brazil’s elite, Cunha faces criminal corruption charges that he took millions of dollars in bribes and hid money in Swiss bank accounts.

On Wednesday, an ethics committee was expected to vote — following repeated delays — on whether to open an enquiry, which could then lead to Cunha being forced out.

The ultra-conservative politician says the charges are politically motivated and has fought fiercely to retain his post.

Analysts say that the entire impeachment crisis has in part been linked to Cunha’s battle to distract attention from his case and ensure his continued influence as speaker.

– Divorce or make up? –
Political analyst Michael Mohallen, at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, said the Supreme Court had done the right thing by suspending the impeachment campaign, but that in Brazil’s tinderbox politics it will have to be careful.

“The problem is knowing how the court will be involved in this process. It will be the referee throughout, so it will have to be very measured in accepting or rejecting appeals. Every time a group of deputies feels it has lost it will appeal,” he said.

“So far the court has reacted well. It has had four appeals since the start of the procedure and accepted only one,” he said.

For Rousseff supporters, the entire impeachment case lacks credibility. On Tuesday, 16 of the country’s 27 state governors declared there was no constitutional foundation.

But with only 10 percent popularity ratings, Rousseff has little political muscle and the impeachment push in part reflects the country’s anger at the multiple crises.

For Rousseff, a key element now is whether her vice president, Michel Temer, will remain loyal.

Temer, from the PMDB, hinted strongly this week that he is ready to abandon Rousseff and join his party’s opposition-minded wing.

If that happens, Rousseff’s chances of winning the necessary one-third of votes in Congress to defeat impeachment would diminish sharply.

The two were due to meet late Wednesday, although it was not clear whether they planned to finalize the divorce or make up.

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