Brazil’s electoral court delayed a decision on whether to open hearings into allegations President Dilma Rousseff illegally financed her re-election campaign, charges that could provide grounds for her removal from office.
Five of the seven judges on the court, known as the TSE, said they were in favor of opening hearings, and one voted against. Judge Luciana Lossio then requested that the voting be suspended, and the case will resume when she delivers her vote.
“There is already a majority for proceeding with the action,” TSE President Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli said to reporters.
A petition to the court filed by the opposition party PSDB alleges that Rousseff and her Vice-President Michel Temer used more money than reported and received donations from companies involved in a corruption scandal to finance their 2014 re-election campaign.
At stake is one of the biggest threats to Rousseff’s political survival as she struggles to contain fallout from a contracting economy and a wave of corruption probes that have reached the upper echelons of her party, company executives, and allied legislators. If it rules her campaign used illegal funds, the TSE could call new elections or name runner-up Aecio Neves of the PSDB the winner. Rousseff could appeal a decision before the Supreme Court.
“It’s just another thorn in her side, and she’s got a lot of thorns in her side already,” said David Fleischer, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. Fleischer said he expects a majority of votes in favor of hearing the case.
With a divided ruling coalition and a record low popularity rating of 8 percent in the latest Datafolha poll, Rousseff has been struggling to block bills in Congress that undermine her efforts to narrow a budget deficit and avoid a credit rating downgrade to junk status.
Separately Rousseff faces accusations before Brazil’s audit court that she doctored her government’s fiscal accounts last year, a charge the opposition says would be grounds for her impeachment.
The government asked for 15 more days to respond to additional questions about last year’s accounting practices, which would set the new deadline for Sept. 14, according to Attorney-General Luis Inacio Adams, who is responsible for the defense. If the TCU doesn’t initially accept the extension request, the government will question that decision in the audit court’s public session Wednesday, Adams said in a telephone interview
Gilmar Mendes, one of the TSE judges who cast his vote in favor of hearing the case, said in a report last week there are indications Rousseff’s Workers’ Party was indirectly financed by money from state-owned oil company Petrobras through an alleged scheme of kickbacks, which is forbidden by law.
“You don’t need great judicial reasoning to conclude that the alluded conduct could, in theory, qualify as abuse of economic power,” he said in his vote, according to a statement from the TSE. Judges Joao Otavio de Noronha, Luiz Fux and Henrique Neves voted in line with Mendes. Judge Maria Thereza de Assis Moura voted not to accept the case.
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