Brazil's Supreme Court rejects President Dilma Rousseff's last-ditch move to stop impeachment

A last-ditch attempt by Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to stop the impeachment process against her has been rejected by the Supreme Court.
A last-ditch attempt by Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to stop the impeachment process against her has been rejected by the Supreme Court.PHOTO: EPA

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil's Supreme Court on Friday (April 15) rejected a last-ditch attempt by President Dilma Rousseff to halt the impeachment process against her, clearing the way for a key vote in Congress.

Justices refused a request for an injunction against proceedings that the government lawyer called "Kafkaesque" and said amounted to denying Ms Rousseff the opportunity to defend herself against allegations of illegally fudging government budget numbers to boost her re-election chances in 2014.

The 7-3 ruling in an emergency Supreme Court session that began late on Thursday and went well past midnight in the capital Brasilia paved the way for Sunday's vote by the Lower House of Congress, which is due to decide whether to send Rousseff to an impeachment trial.

In an atmosphere of maximum drama and tension in Latin America's largest country and economy, debate in the Lower House begins later on Friday leading up to the vote on Sunday.

Latest counts of voting intentions in the lower house by major Brazilian newspapers show the pro-impeachment camp either at, or on the verge of, the necessary two-thirds majority.

If the vote passes on Sunday, the Senate will have authority to open a trial against Ms Rousseff. If the Senate finds her guilty with another two-thirds vote, she would be forced from office.

The 68-year-old leftist leader's grip on power is fast slipping, leaving Brazil in crisis at a time of major recession and less than four months before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympics.

Ms Rousseff has been desperately trying to assemble enough support in the lower house to prevent the opposition amassing the 342 out of a total 513 votes they need to move the impeachment forward.

On Thursday, she launched a new line of defence, sending her government's top lawyer Jose Eduardo Cardozo to file for the injunction. The government alleged procedural failings in the impeachment case, saying it had violated her right to a defense.

"Evidence unrelated to the case has been included in the process, such as matters related to President Dilma (Rousseff)'s previous term," Mr Cardozo said in the filing.

He called the impeachment drive "a truly Kafkaesque process in which the accused is unable to know precisely what she is accused of or why".

Ms Rousseff, who has vowed to go down fighting, also tried another tack by repeating an offer to forge a political compromise with opponents if deputies throw out impeachment on Sunday.

"The government will fight until the last minute of the second half... to foil this coup attempt," she said in an interview published by various media outlets on Thursday.

Ms Rousseff on Thursday held a meeting with ministers and some of the lawmakers still loyal to her, a presidential source said, shortly before Mr Cardozo announced his appeal.

Several of the parties in Ms Rousseff's coalition have jumped ship, starting with the PMDB of Vice-President Michel Temer. Scores of lawmakers have since turned against Rousseff, saying they will vote for impeachment.

The number of lawmakers who will vote against her on Sunday reached 342, Estadao daily estimated in the latest count on its website. Folha daily had the number at 338.

If the Senate, in turn, votes to open an impeachment trial, Ms Rousseff would be suspended from office for six months. Mr Temer would step into her place while the impeachment process runs its course and he would remain in office if she were ousted.

Ms Rousseff has branded Mr Temer a traitor. She says he is the leader of a "coup" against her along with the speaker of the Lower House Eduardo Cunha.

Lawmakers who have yet to declare their position were facing fierce lobbying, including from Ms Rousseff's top ally and predecessor as president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But he, too, faces pressure: the courts have suspended his appointment as Ms Rousseff's chief of staff over a corruption case against him, linked to a huge graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras.

Protesters for and against Ms Rousseff have called for demonstrations this weekend in Brasilia. Security forces have put up long fences to protect government buildings from possible disturbances.

On Thursday night, some 200 anti-government demonstrators were camped out near Congress. The protest had a festive atmosphere with one man dressed in prison garb and wearing a Lula mask.

A few kilometers away, government supporters also rallied, getting ready for Sunday's vote.

"There are 500 of us now, but by the weekend we expect more than 100,000. We came here to confront this coup," said Mr Paulo Joao Estausia, a union organiser.