Brazil's senate is more than 12 hours into a marathon session on the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, with the pro-ouster camp ahead by a wide margin. Debate is expected to continue through the night and well into Thursday morning, with a vote coming some time after dawn in Brasilia.
In the chamber, senators supporting impeachment have berated the president for the "looting" of Brazil, while those from her party have denounced an illegal power-grab. Outside, pro-Rousseff protesters have clashed with police, with some injuries reported. The president herself is reported to be watching proceedings inside the presidential offices, from which she has already cleared most of her personal effects. She is scheduled to address the nation at 10 a.m.
The days leading up to this session were full of last-minute developments, torquing the level of anxiety in a country that has been gripped by instability for months.
On May 9, the speaker of the lower house of the National Congress announced he was annulling the original vote to impeach Ms. Rousseff, then 12 hours later said he was cancelling the annulment – while the Senate leader said he would ignore the lower house in any case. And the Attorney-General went late Tuesday afternoon to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to seek an injunction on the impeachment vote. The court rejected the motion, mid-way through the Senate session Wednesday. Financial markets have see-sawed on all of this, and pro-Rousseff protesters have blocked major roads and bridges.
Running counts in the Brazilian media showed that the forces determined to topple the President have at least 50 votes in the 81-seat Senate, well above the simple majority of 41 necessary to open an impeachment trial of Ms. Rousseff, forcing her to step aside for 180 days while the Senate conducts a trial that would be unlikely to exonerate her.
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Her Vice-President, Michel Temer, stands poised to assume her office as soon as the vote is cast, with a new cabinet and a much more right-leaning policy framework already prepared.
Ms. Rousseff faces impeachment for what is known here as "financial juggling" – allegedly shifting funds from state banks to cover holes in the federal budget. She argues this is a common practice, not a "crime of responsibility" that merits impeachment, and that she is the victim of a "coup" by opposition forces that never accepted losing the last election.
Ms. Rousseff has presided over the implosion of Brazil's once-vibrant economy, with unemployment and inflation both above 10 per cent today.
On Tuesday night, the Senate voted to strip the mandate of Delcidio do Amaral, who was a senator from Ms. Rousseff's Workers' Party and whose plea bargain testimony named dozens of senior political figures from the party, and most others, in the giant graft scandal known as Lava Jato.
Ms. Rousseff has not been accused of any personal enrichment. However, there are allegations, now under investigation, that she attempted to obstruct probes of her government.
The political upheaval of the past six months has exacerbated the worst economic recession in almost 100 years; having badly mismanaged economic policy, Ms. Rousseff found herself without support in Congress to pass a reform agenda.
There is widespread hope here, even among many who don't think she deserves impeachment, that some kind of resolution in the political drama may boost the economy. But it is not clear how much latitude or stability Mr. Temer's new administration will have – Attorney-General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Tuesday that he intends to continue to fight the impeachment in every legal avenue. Workers' Party members in Congress have made clear they intend to obstruct his new administration, and unions and social movements promise public disruption to protest the toppling of the government they elected.