Rousseff Boosts Defense as Lawmakers Haggle Over Impeachment

  • Lower house votes Tues. on members of impeachment committee
  • Rousseff wants to cut short congressional recess to end crisis

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Photographer: Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff on Monday stepped up efforts to protect her mandate as legislators got ready to choose members of a committee that will recommend whether to impeach her.

The full lower house of Congress is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to accept the 65 members of the committee who are nominated by party leaders. The vote originally was slated for Monday evening. The committee will hear Rousseff’s defense and make a recommendation whether the full house should back accusations against her and allow the Senate to try her on charges she broke Brazil’s fiscal law. She denies wrongdoing.

While the ruling coalition on paper has a majority in the lower house, many lawmakers in allied parties have opposed her this year. At stake in Tuesday’s vote is how many pro-government legislators will be elected to the committee, whose composition may become a barometer of support for Rousseff. The committee’s findings are not binding but could sway enough lawmakers to make a difference when the full house decides.

"This is the first test of political strength for the government and the opposition," said Thiago Vidal, a political analyst at Sao Paulo-based consulting firm Prospectiva.

Impeachment Timing

At the same time, the government and its critics are squaring off over the timing of the process as both sides scramble to rally support.

The president on Monday said she wants Congress to cut short its Christmas recess by returning in January rather than February so it can resolve the impeachment process as soon as possible. She spoke after meeting with 30 legal experts who denounced efforts to oust her as unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Henrique Fontana, one of the deputy leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party, supports the idea of holding a lower house vote this month.

"We need to kill this illegal impeachment agenda as quickly as possible," he said.

Government efforts to expedite the process hit a snag Monday when Congress moved voting on the committee to Tuesday. The one-day delay came after members of the opposition surprised the government and proposed a group of committee members who hadn’t been recommended by party leaders, said Siba Machado, leader of the Workers’ Party in the lower house.

Leonardo Picciani, leader of the largest allied party, the PMDB, said the delay was a poor start to the impeachment process and that voting could face further delays.

Protest Movement

Members of the opposition say Rousseff is trying to fast-track the vote in order to avert a mobilization of public support for impeachment. Carlos Sampaio, the leader of the opposition PSDB party in the lower house, said last week he backs the idea of taking the Christmas recess as planned to give protest movements time to grow.

Civic groups critical of the government already are starting to mobilize, including the Free Brazil Movement that is organizing pro-impeachment demonstrations for Dec. 13. The Nationwide protests could pressure legislators to vote against Rousseff, and are widely seen as the impetus behind former President Fernando Collor de Mello’s impeachment in 1992.

Meanwhile the Unified Workers’ Central, a labor union group known as CUT, has scheduled a demonstration for Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro to support the government.

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