- President attacks house speaker, who started impeachment bid
- Opposition says Rousseff rushing to avoid pressure from street
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff came out fighting on Friday against an attempt to oust her, while opposition lawmakers accused the government of trying to fast track the impeachment process in a bid to avoid pressure from the streets.
At her first public event since impeachment proceedings started on Wednesday, Rousseff called the move a “coup attempt” and focused fire on lower house president Eduardo Cunha, who kicked off the process.
“I will defend my mandate with every tool available,” Rousseff told a crowd of supporters, who chanted “there will be no coup" and “out with Cunha.”
“I didn’t commit any crime. I don’t have accounts in Switzerland,” she added, in a reference to the lower house president. Cunha, who faces a possible congressional ethics probe himself, denies allegations that he lied about the existence of overseas bank accounts.
Cunha accepted an impeachment request that argues the president illegally financed her re-election campaign and broke the fiscal law by overspending this year and last. He made the announcement just hours after Rousseff’s party said it would vote to open the probe against him.
Brazil’s political climate has deteriorated this week, with Cunha and Rousseff’s Cabinet members calling each other liars. The president is trying to turn the nation’s attention to the lower house president and his challenges in the ethics committee rather than allegations made against her.
“She’s trying to hold Cunha up as the textbook bad boy,” said David Fleischer, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia. “She’s trying to say that he has engendered this all as a personal vendetta against her.”
The president’s supporters meanwhile are using other tools to protect her mandate. They filed motions before the Supreme Court to quash the impeachment request, arguing that Cunha abused his power and failed to give Rousseff the right to defense. Judges denied two requests and still are considering a third.
In addition, the government is pushing for the impeachment process to advance as quickly as possible in a move the opposition says is designed to prevent public opinion from souring further against the president. Members of the Workers’ Party, including their leader in the lower house Siba Machado, say they support the idea of Congress working through its Christmas recess.
“We need to decide on this quickly,” Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, told reporters on Thursday. “If we wait for Christmas, for February, then for Carnival, how will the political climate in this country be?”
Street protests have died down since early 2015, when more than a million Brazilians demonstrated against corruption and government mismanagement. Nationwide demonstrations are widely seen as the impetus behind former President Fernando Collor de Mello’s impeachment in 1992.
Motivated by Wednesday’s opening of the impeachment process, civic groups including the Free Brazil Movement are organizing anti-government demonstrations for later this month. Carlos Sampaio, the leader of the opposition PSDB party in the lower house, said he supports the idea of taking the December recess as planned to give the protest movement time to grow.
“The government wants to take advantage of the period between Christmas and New Year’s to try and make it harder for social movements to mobilize, reducing pressure on congressmen,” Sampaio said. “That is unacceptable. So from now on, we are for keeping the recess.”