Cheers and jeers as committee calls for Rousseff to be impeached

Opposition lawmakers celebrated the committee's decision. Photo / AP
Opposition lawmakers celebrated the committee's decision. Photo / AP

Emotions ran high in Brazil yesterday as a Brazilian congressional committee recommended impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, setting the stage for a crucial vote in the lower house to decide whether she should face trial.

Opposition lawmakers celebrated, waving signs reading "impeachment now" after the results of the voting were announced.

Later in the day, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, urged citizens to get behind their leader during an event in support of Rousseff in Rio de Janeiro.

The committee voted 38 to 27 in favour of Rousseff's ouster. Both sides yelled slogans and waved placards as the vote was completed after hours of bad-tempered debate that often descended into shouting matches, reflecting Brazil's increasingly bitter divisions.

Rousseff is accused of fiddling accounts to mask the dire state of the government budget during her 2014 re-election.

The committee's decision is non-binding but symbolically important as a preview of the decisive battle in the full lower chamber expected on Monday or the following Tuesday.

"It was a victory for the Brazilian people," said opposition deputy Jovair Arantes, predicting the result would carry with "strong" pro-impeachment momentum into the full chamber's vote.

In the Chamber of Deputies, a two-thirds majority would send Rousseff's case to the Senate, which would then have the power to put her on trial and ultimately drive her from office. Anything less would torpedo the procedure.

Rousseff is fighting desperately to secure enough anti-impeachment votes or persuade deputies to abstain.

The latest survey of the 513 lower house deputies by the Estadao daily newspaper yesterday showed 298 in favour - still short of the 342 needed to carry the motion - with 119 opposed and 96 undecided.

Pro-government deputy Silvio Costa said he was confident. "The opposition is very arrogant" after the committee victory, he said.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke at a rally in support of Dilma Rousseff. Photo / AP
Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke at a rally in support of Dilma Rousseff. Photo / AP

With Latin America's biggest country gripped by recession, political paralysis and a vast corruption scandal, passions on both sides are intense.

A barricade was erected along the Esplanade of Ministries in the capital Brasilia to separate opposing protesters that police expect could number as many as 300,000 during the lower house vote.

If the case is taken up by the Senate after being confirmed by the lower house, Rousseff would have to step down for up to 180 days while a trial is held.

Her Vice-President, Michel Temer, who has gone over to the opposition, would take the reins.

Temer would also remain President if a two-thirds majority in the Senate votes to depose Rousseff.

Some in the opposition have declared Rousseff politically dead ever since Temer's PMDB party, the largest in Brazil, quit her ruling coalition and joined the pro-impeachment ranks last month.

However, Rousseff, who was tortured under Brazil's military dictatorship, has fought back, helped by ally Lula, who is overseeing frantic negotiations to build an impeachment-proof coalition.

Lula, addressing thousands of supporters yesterday, said: "I would never have thought that my generation would see putschists trying to overthrow a democratically elected president." Lula, who ruled from 2003 to 2011, specifically named Temer and the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha.

Rousseff has rock-bottom popularity ratings but as the moment of truth approaches, it has emerged that Brazilians are not much keener on her would-be replacement Temer.

A poll by the respected Datafolha institute on Sunday showed that 61 per cent support impeachment, down from 68 per cent in mid-March.

However, 58 per cent also said they would like to see Temer impeached.

- AFP

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