Brazil’s president just came one step closer to impeachment


SÃO PAULO — Two court rulings in two days have raised the real possibility that Brazil’s already beleaguered president, Dilma Rousseff, could face impeachment proceedings.

The most immediate challenge comes from Wednesday’s ruling by Brazil’s top audit court that the government manipulated its 2014 accounts. The court said the book-cooking was aimed at covering up a widening fiscal deficit in order to justify maintaining social spending ahead of Rousseff’s narrowly-won reelection last October.

Rousseff summoned ministers to a meeting on Thursday to discuss the judgment’s implications.

statement from the president’s office said earlier that the government was “fully confident there were no legal motives” to justify the court’s decision. Solicitor-general Luís Inácio Adams said he would be launching an appeal in the Supreme Court.

But opposition lawmakers, who embraced each other and applauded when the ruling was read out on Wednesday, are insisting the end is nigh for Rousseff’s second presidential term at a time when she is trying to force austerity measures through Congress amid single-digit personal approval ratings, and with the economy in recession.

Rousseff’s main rival in last year’s elections, Senator Aécio Neves, who leads the main opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, said the ruling was “historic” and had “proved” the president had committed impeachable crimes.

Rubens Bueno, leader of opposition Popular Socialist Party, said the court’s decision had “buried this administration once and for all.”

Congress must now vote on whether to accept the ruling’s recommendation to reject the accounts, and whether there are grounds to start impeachment proceedings.

[UPDATE: However, opposition legislators now say they want to press on with proceedings next week regardless of Congress’s approval or rejections of the government’s 2014 accounts — which might only reach a vote in 2016.]

Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, or PT, is part of a cumbersome nine-party coalition that has a slim majority that could allow her to face down such a bid, though the party’s most powerful ally, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, has recently been distancing itself from Rousseff’s government.

The accounts court ruling came a day after Brazil’s highest electoral court on Tuesday decided to reopen an investigation into the financing of Rousseff’s 2014 reelection campaign.

The electoral court’s decision is a side effect of a separate criminal probe into a vast kickback scandal centered on the state-run oil giant Petrobras. Witnesses in that investigation said in plea bargain testimony that funds from the corruption network were, in part, funneled to ruling parties, including the PT and other coalition partners.

The PT has denied any irregularities in its campaign funds that, if proved, could lead to the annulment of Rousseff’s victory.

Experts say Rousseff could face a third challenge to her presidency if the Petrobras corruption investigations find evidence of a direct link to her. The president has denied all knowledge of the scams, despite chairing the company’s board of directors between 2003 and 2010, when much of the wrongdoing is alleged to have taken place.

Political scientist David Fleischer, of the University of Brasília, said the accounts court ruling is the most pressing of the potential impeachment scenarios as the process could take just five or six months, whereas the electoral court investigation would need at least a year.

Rousseff’s immediate future consequently depends on her ability to shore up her support among legislators.

Her efforts so far include a major cabinet reshuffle last week in which she gave key ministerial prizes to her heavyweight PMDB coalition partners, which she announced would provide “greater governability.”

To Fleischer, however, they looked more like a sign that the president is running out of options:

“The political moves made by Rousseff are looking increasingly desperate and indecisive.”

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