Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to make final plea to impeachment committee

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaking during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on April 1, 2016.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaking during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on April 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's top lawyer will present final arguments before an impeachment committee on Monday (April 4) at the start of a crucial two weeks in the embattled leader's bid to stay in power.

Solicitor-General Jose Eduardo Cardozo was due to face the cross-party committee for the last time before it votes on whether to recommend Rousseff face trial for allegedly illegal accounting practices.

The session was expected to start at around 7.30pm.

The commission recommendation, scheduled for April 11, is non-binding but will set the tone for a vote soon after in the lower house of Congress on Ms Rousseff's fate.

Two thirds of the Lower Chamber, or 342 votes, are needed to send the case for trial in the Senate. The Lower House vote is due to take place April 17, Folha daily reported on Sunday.

The schedule gives Ms Rousseff - whose main coalition partner went over to the opposition last week - just days to lobby for support and save her presidency.

Following intense behind-the-scenes dealing, she is soon expected to announce a series of ministerial posts and other government jobs given in reward for congressional support.

She could also find out this week if the Supreme Court agrees to let heavy-hitting but controversial former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva join her Cabinet.

Lula is crucial to rallying the leftist base and negotiating an anti-impeachment coalition, but has been barred because he is accused in a case connected to a huge embezzlement and bribery scandal at state oil company Petrobras.

"This week will be the week where both sides are playing all their cards pretty hard and making their moves," Mr Gabriel Petrus, an analyst at the political consultancy Barral M Jorge Associates, told AFP.

"The following week we'll have the final result of this battle."

Ms Rousseff is accused of illegally manipulating government accounts, a charge that many experts consider to be relatively light for impeachment.

However, the one-time Marxist guerrilla during Brazil's military dictatorship is also taking fire for a brutal recession and the Petrobras corruption scandal. With only 10 per cent government approval ratings and inability to pass legislation in Congress, Ms Rousseff already looks powerless.

But those working to oust Ms Rousseff themselves face serious allegations.

Ms Rousseff's vice-president-turned-opponent, Mr Michel Temer, has been linked - though not charged - as a participant in the Petrobras scandal. If Ms Rousseff goes, he'd become president.

The speaker of the Lower House, Mr Eduardo Cunha, who has spearheaded the effort against Ms Rousseff, was charged by prosecutors last year with taking millions of dollars in bribes in the scandal and hiding the money in Switzerland.

Huge opposition rallies and smaller but still significant pro-Rousseff rallies are now a regular feature across Latin America's biggest country, accentuating a divide that some fear could turn violent.

At a demonstration Saturday in the leftist northeast of Brazil, Lula said he had "never seen such a climate of hate".

With Ms Rousseff claiming she is victim of a coup and the opposition saying that the future of the country is at stake, attitudes are hardening.

Reflecting that, Cunha plans to break the tradition of house speakers not participating in votes of this kind, Folha newspaper reported Sunday.

In addition, he plans to move the voting day to Sunday, April 17, making it easier for the opposition to rally outside Congress, the report said.

"A political war will be waged," he told Folha.