Brazilians Brace for More Drama at Top Court, Congress

  • Poll shows 68 percent support Dilma Rousseff's impeachment
  • Government supporters have denounced process as a "coup"

Brazil is bracing itself for another week of drama, in which the Supreme Court and Congress will chart the path through the nation’s political crisis after a poll showed two-thirds of its citizens want President Dilma Rousseff ousted.

QuickTake Brazil’s Highs and Lows

The Attorney General’s office over the weekend called on the Supreme Court to quickly and definitively settle a legal dispute over former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s appointment to become Rousseff’s chief of staff. Several injunctions preventing Lula from taking office have alternately been imposed and lifted, with the latest ban for him to join her cabinet coming from Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes late on Friday.

The administration hopes Lula can rebuild support in Congress to avoid Rousseff’s impeachment on allegations that she doctored budget results and that her re-election campaign in 2014 received graft money. Critics say she brought Lula into the cabinet to shield him from a possible arrest related to the corruption probe into state-run oil company Petrobras, known as Carwash. Both Rousseff and Lula have denied such a maneuver as well as any wrongdoing.

Out of Rousseff’s cabinet, Lula remains under the jurisdiction of federal judge Sergio Moro, who could issue an arrest warrant against the former president at any moment. Following a request of Brazilian authorities related to the Carwash investigation, Portuguese police arrested a Brazilian-Portuguese citizen in Lisbon who allegedly made illicit payments to former Petrobras directors.

As the Carwash probe gathers speed, Rousseff tries to defend herself from impeachment. A lower house committee tasked with drafting a recommendation on whether to impeach her will meet for the first time Monday. The house speaker Eduardo Cunha pledged last week to speed up the process and have a vote on the floor by April. Congress traditionally only sits from Tuesday to Thursday.

Pressure for legislators to oust Rousseff has mounted in recent days. An opinion survey published by Datafolha polling firm on Saturday showed that support for impeachment rose to 68 percent, up from 60 percent in February. The Brazilian bar association, which was influential in the country’s return to democracy in 1985 and the impeachment of President Fernando Collor in 1992, on Friday voted to back the move.

Among those surveyed by the Datafolha poll, 69 percent rated the government bad or terrible. The poll of 2,794 people was conducted March 17-18, and has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had remained on the sidelines of the debate until now, also favored her impeachment, citing the government’s inability to function, according to an interview published Saturday by newspaper Estado de S. Paulo. Legitimacy of impeachment comes not from Congress, but from street demonstrations, he said.

Millions marched in Brazil last week, calling for Rousseff’s ouster and the end of corruption. Government supporters also staged rallies on Friday, with hundreds of thousands of supporters showing up to denounce a process many of them say amounts to a coup.

Economic Measures

Politics overshadowing the nation are drawing attention away from measures required to shore up government accounts and help pull the economy from what’s shaping up to be its worst recession on record. The government will announce a stimulus package on Monday that aims to inject 15 billion reais ($4 billion) into the economy in the second half of 2016, newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported over the weekend, without saying how it got the information.

“Improvement in the political situation will also help the economic recovery,” Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa said Friday. “Today the political uncertainty delays the economic recovery.”

Brazil’s economy is expected to contract 3.5 percent this year, according to a Bloomberg survey, following a 3.8 percent dive in 2015. The press office of Brazil’s Finance Ministry didn’t immediately return calls or e-mails seeking comments on the stimulus package.

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