Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Rousseff begins a long goodbye

AFP, RIO DE JANEIRO

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff smiles as she attends May Day celebrations in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to greet the Olympic flame today, but the pomp and ceremony will seem empty to a president likely to be suspended from office just a week later.

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.

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

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

On Wednesday or Thursday next week the Brazilian Senate is expected to vote to open an impeachment trial on charges that Rousseff illegally manipulated government accounts.

She would be automatically suspended and replaced by Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, the head of Brazil’s main center-right party and once a coalition ally of Rousseff before — in her words — turning “traitor.”

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

Rousseff on Sunday 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 — at the very minimum — to the humiliating prospect of having to abandon her executive offices, called the Palacio do Planalto, in just over a week.

“She has ordered the drawers to be cleaned out,” Folha daily said on Sunday.

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 applications.

Ten days from the Senate vote on impeachment “nothing about the routine in the Palacio do Planalto resembles the resistance announced by social movements under the cry of ‘No to the coup!’” Estadao daily said on Sunday.

“In offices at the seat of government, functionaries are already packing their things,” it said.

Once suspended, Rousseff is expected to hunker down at the presidential residence on half pay.

From there she is likely to attempt to persuade senators that the accounting tricks she is accused of do not amount to an impeachable offense and that the whole procedure is a political, not legal assault — an argument rejected last month by the lower house of the Brazilian Congress.

The stakes for Brazilian politics could not be higher.

Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerrilla 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 the country since 2003, is still fighting to prevent impeachment from turning into a historic shift to the right.

Rousseff’s mentor and presidential predecessor, Workers’ Party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hopes to take the baton back by running in 2018 — or even in special snap elections before. Polls show he would be a frontrunner, trouncing the stunningly unpopular Temer.

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