Brazil's leader to go down fighting

RIO DE JANEIRO • Ms Dilma Rousseff greets the Olympic flame in Brazil today, but the pomp and ceremony will seem empty to a president likely to be suspended from office just a week from now.

The arrival of the flame in Brasilia from an ancient Greek temple, via Switzerland, will trigger a three- month countdown to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Brazil's big chance to shine on the global stage.

But the supposedly joyful occasion coincides with the Latin American giant's plunge into a political furnace, with Ms Rousseff facing impeachment and claiming to be the victim of a coup d'etat.

That means the choreographed events for the torch could be one of the 68-year-old leftist leader's last major public appearances.

On May 11 or 12, the Senate is expected to vote to open an impeachment trial on charges that Ms Rousseff illegally manipulated government accounts.

She would be automatically suspended and replaced by Vice-President Michel Temer, the head of the main centre-right party and once a coalition ally of Ms Rousseff before - in her words - turning "traitor".

A definitive Senate vote on Ms Rousseff's fate could take months more, but unless she is cleared she will never come back and her nemesis would stay in power until the next scheduled election in 2018.

On Sunday, Ms Rousseff railed against "the coup" and told union supporters of her Workers' Party that she would "fight to the end". However, with the Senate vote to suspend her looking near certain, she appears resigned to the humiliating prospect of having to abandon her executive offices, the Palacio do Planalto, very soon. "She has ordered the drawers to be cleaned out," the Folha daily said.

And it is not just filing cabinets that will be looking for a new home. Her Workers' Party ministers and what Folha calls "a sea" of government employees are likely soon to be sending out job resumes.

Once suspended, Ms Rousseff will hunker down at the presidential residence on half-pay. From there she will attempt to persuade senators that the accounting tricks she is accused of do not amount to an impeachable offence and that the whole procedure is a political, not a legal, assault - an argument rejected last month by the Lower House of Congress.

The stakes could not be higher.

Ms Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerilla who was tortured by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, is widely assumed to be nearing the end of the road. However, the Workers' Party, which has dominated and transformed Brazil since 2003, is still fighting to prevent impeachment from turning into a historic shift to the right.

Leftist groups are threatening to go down swinging, vowing to make the life of an acting or eventually full president Temer miserable.

Mr Vagner Freitas, president of the Unified Workers' Central or CUT, Brazil's main labour federation, said: "We do not recognise a government that no one elected."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Brazil's leader to go down fighting'. Print Edition | Subscribe