Rousseff to Brazil Senate: Vote for democracy, not impeachment

President Dilma Rousseff defended her record in office during her impeachment trial Monday in the Brazilian Senate, rejecting charges of corruption and warning of a break in the country's democracy.

"We are faced with a coup," the leftist Workers Party (PT) leader said in an emotional and combative speech that could well be her last as president.

Rousseff, 68, is charged with manipulating government accounts to obscure the country's deteriorating budget situation during her 2014 re-election campaign. She is also accused of authorizing lines of credit without congressional approval.

Rousseff again rejected the charges and accused her opponents of a plot to depose her.

"I did not commit the crimes of which I am unjustly and arbitrarily accused," she said. "The accusations against me are mere pretexts."

In a 45-minute speech that drew on her personal and political history, the former leftist guerrilla inveighed against "ultraconservative" interests determined to remove Brazil's first woman president from power.

"They did everything to destabilize me and my government," she said.

Senators opposed to Rousseff denied the embattled president's accusations, saying that rather than a coup, the impeachment proceedings are an exercise in the rule of law.

"How is this a coup if you are exercising your right to defence before Congress?" Aloysio Nunes of Brazil's social democratic party asked Rousseff on the stand.

Rousseff's supporters say she would hardly be the first leader to have resorted to creative accounting, and that the accusations are a convenient way to depose her. Her opponents say what matters is that she violated the constitution.

Speaking Monday, Rousseff emphasized her reputation as an honest leader amid corruption scandals that have ensnared much of the Brazilian political establishment.

"Everyone knows that I did not enrich myself in the exercise of public duties," she said. "I always acted with absolute probity."

She defied calls to resign prior to an impeachment vote, and said if the vote went in her favour she would call new elections.

In a final message, Rousseff urged senators to vote against the impeachment, and instead "vote for democracy."

The vote is expected this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday. With a two-thirds majority - at least 54 of 81 senators in favor - Rousseff will be removed from office and vice president Michel Temer formally installed as president until the end of Rousseff's term in 2018. Her impeachment would bar her from office for eight years.

The Senate voted 59-21 in early August to indict Rousseff, suggesting the odds are heavily against her. Brazilian media reported 52 senators have already decided to vote for impeachment, while only 18 of a necessary 28 have declared themselves against it.

Rousseff's political fortunes took a dire turn early this year, when Temer's centre-right PMDB party began an exodus from her governing coalition.

The country's lower house of parliament, then led by Rousseff arch-rival Eduardo Cunha, voted in April to begin impeachment proceedings. Rousseff was suspended from office in May pending an investigation of the allegations and Temer took over as interim president.

Her exit would end more than 13 years of government by the Workers Party, which were marked by the rise of Brazil as a global economic power under former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

A severe economic crisis and several corruption scandals have since plunged the South American nation into disrepute, and the rumours and controversy surrounding the impeachment have divided the country and damaged Brazil's image abroad.

Brazil's annual deficit had been mostly below 3 per cent of gross domestic product for years until 2014 - amid Rousseff's re-election campaign - when the figure jumped to 6 per cent. The deficit ballooned in 2015 to 10.3 per cent amid a shrinking economy.

Since then, the country has descended into economic crisis, reflected in Rousseff's plummeting poll numbers. Ahead of her suspension from office, her approval rating neared a historic low of 11 per cent.

The country remains divided. Early Monday, hundreds of Rousseff sympathizers met before the legislature in Brasilia, carrying red roses to show their support.

But those supporting her removal had been congregating there since Sunday, bearing placards with the slogan, "tchau, querida" - "bye, darling."

Last update: Tue, 30/08/2016 - 09:40

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