By Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassu
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff resorted to the Supreme Court on Thursday in a last ditch attempt to avert a critical impeachment vote in Congress that could lead to her removal from office.
Rousseff’s attorney general, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, asked the top court for an injunction to suspend Sunday’s lower house vote until the full court can rule on what he called procedural flaws in the impeachment process.
The Supreme Court has called an extraordinary meeting for 5:30 pm (2030 GMT) to discuss a complaint by a party allied to Rousseff over the impeachment procedure.
Rousseff, an unpopular leader already struggling with Brazil’s worst economic crisis in decades and a historic corruption scandal, has lost support within her governing coalition. She faces the growing likelihood of defeat in the lower house vote, which would send her impeachment to the Senate for trial on charges of breaking budget laws.
If the Senate accepts her impeachment, Rousseff would be suspended and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer as soon as early May pending a trial that could last six months.
Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla, had not been expected to resort to the Supreme Court until after Sunday’s vote. Cardozo’s request to the court was seen as a sign her government now expects defeat.
Rousseff’s opponents are just nine votes short of victory in the lower house, with 333 lawmakers backing impeachment, 124 opposed and 56 undecided or declining to respond, according to a survey by the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.
An injunction by the Supreme Court suspending Sunday’s vote is possible but unlikely, because several of its justices have recently said they do not think the court should interfere with the legislature’s jurisdiction in the impeachment battle.
The injunction request will be decided by Justice Edson Fachin. He is the most recent appointee to the court by Rousseff, though his rulings have not always favored her government.
Brazil’s largest political party, Rousseff’s main coalition partner until it broke away two weeks ago, said most of its members in the lower house will back deposing her.
Leonardo Picciani, the lower chamber leader for the party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, told reporters that 90 per cent of the 68 members of his caucus would vote for impeachment.
The move could push Brazil from political paralysis into a chaotic power vacuum by ending the 13-year rule of Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, which has lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty and is overwhelmingly supported by the country’s poor.
Rousseff is not a being investigated in the massive graft scandal surrounding state-run oil company Petrobras that has reached into her inner circle. She denies she broke budget laws, but opponents allege that accounting tricks helped her win re-election in 2014 by boosting public spending.
Temer, who would serve out Rousseff’s term until 2018 if she is ousted by the Senate, has little popular support. He would face a daunting task restoring confidence in a country where dozens of political leaders, including close associates of his, are under investigation for corruption.
Vowing to fight to the end, Rousseff met with her political advisers as her government scrambled for votes to block impeachment, but defections by several centrist allies in her crumbling coalition have seriously compromised that effort.
Cardozo, Rousseff’s former justice minister and the government’s main legal adviser, has said previously that the impeachment process was unconstitutional. In his appeal to the Supreme Court on Thursday, he asked it to annul the report to the lower house by a congressional committee that recommended impeachment on Monday.
He told a news conference Rousseff’s defense had been obstructed in the committee and that testimony from a former of the president, Senator Delcidio Amaral, was obtained as part of a plea bargain deal and should have been considered inadmissible.