Brazil’s Senate opened the impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday and will hear witnesses for and against the leftist leader who is expected to be removed from office next week on charges of breaking budget laws.
Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, will appear before the 81 senators next Monday to defend herself, but her opponents are confident they have more than the 54 votes needed to convict her in a trial presided over by Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski.
Authorities prepared barriers to contain demonstrations outside Brazil’s modernistic Congress building, but few Rousseff supporters have turned out, pointing to the isolation of the impeached president.
“Every one of you should vote as an individual and not according to party,” Lewandowski said in his opening remarks, reminding Senators that they had become judges and must put aside their political views.
If the final vote, which is expected late Tuesday or in the early hours of Wednesday next week, goes against Rousseff it would confirm her vice president, Michel Temer, as Brazil’s new leader for the rest of her term through 2018, ending 13 years of leftwing Workers Party (PT) rule.
A poll published by O Globo newspaper on Thursday showed that 51 senators were committed to voting to dismiss Rousseff, with only 19 supporting her and 11 undecided.
Rousseff is charged with spending without Congressional approval and manipulating government accounts to disguise the extent of the deficit in the run-up to her 2014 re-election.
Temer’s right-leaning government held last-minute talks with senators and political parties to shore up votes against Rousseff, who has denied any wrongdoing and described efforts to oust her as a “coup.” She has said such accounting practices were also commonly used by previous governments.
However, her trial has become a test of political support for Rousseff amid the deepest recession in at least 80 years in Brazil.
Temer aides said they expected at least 60 senators to vote against Rousseff.
If he is confirmed as president by Rousseff’s ouster, Temer would face a daunting task: steering Latin America’s largest economy out of its worst recession since the Great Depression and plug a budget deficit that topped 10 percent of gross domestic product.
Financial markets have rallied on prospects of a more market-friendly government, with the real currency rising around 30 percent against the dollar this year. Still, investors and members of Temer’s fragile coalition are concerned he has yet to unveil measures to drastically curb the deficit.
A draft budget for next year is not expected in Congress until Aug. 31, after the Senate vote, by which time Temer could have more political leverage to push through unpopular austerity measures.
Temer’s team has sought to speed up the trial so he can set about restoring confidence in a once-booming economy and remove any doubts about his legitimacy as Brazil’s president.
If Rousseff is removed, Temer must be sworn in by the Senate. He is then expected to address the nation before heading to the summit of the G20 group of leading economies in Hangzhou, China on Sept. 4-5 on his first trip abroad.
In her last rally before the trial, in the auditorium of a bank workers union in Brasilia on Wednesday night, Rousseff supporters chanted “Out with Temer.”
Rousseff, who once belonged to a left-wing guerrilla group, said she has refused to resign to make the point that she is being ousted illegally.
“I committed no crime. To stop this from happening again, I must go to the Senate to defend Brazil’s democracy, the political views that I advocate and the legitimate rights of the Brazilian people,” she said.
Yet even Rousseff’s Workers Party, hurt by corruption scandals and her dismal economic record, has distanced itself from her last-minute call for new elections to resolve Brazil’s political crisis.
In a sign that Rousseff is not expecting a favorable verdict next week, she has begun to move her personal belongings out of the presidential residence in Brasilia to her home in Porto Alegre.