Brasília (AFP) – Brazil’s Senate was set to vote Wednesday on stripping Dilma Rousseff of the presidency in a traumatic impeachment trial set to end 13 years of leftist rule over Latin America’s biggest country.
Senators loyal to Brazil’s first female president debated through the night in a last-ditch attempt to halt seemingly unstoppable momentum toward her dismissal on charges that she illegally manipulated the national budget.
Despite the impassioned speeches, which followed 14 hours of testimony by 68-year-old Rousseff earlier this week, her fate was apparently sealed.
The Senate judgment session was to start at 11:00 am (1400 GMT) and senators were expected to vote on their verdict a few hours later.
If Rousseff is ejected, her vice president turned bitter political enemy, Michel Temer, will be sworn in at about 3:00 pm (1800 GMT).
Profile of Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff
The veteran center-right politician, whom Rousseff accuses of using the impeachment process to mount a coup, was to leave by nightfall for a G20 summit in China.
Extra security and the closing of avenues near the Senate in the capital Brasilia caused massive traffic jams. Police said they were preparing for large protests but early Wednesday, the huge esplanade set aside for demonstrators was still eerily empty.
Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, is accused of taking illegal state loans to patch budget holes in 2014, masking the country’s problems as it slid into its deepest recession in decades.
She told the Senate on Monday that she is innocent and that abuse of the impeachment process put Brazil’s democracy, restored in 1985 after a two-decades-long military dictatorship, at risk.
Opponents of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rally in front of the National Congress in Brasilia, on August 30, 2016
Recalling how she was tortured and imprisoned in the 1970s for belonging to a leftist guerrilla group, Rousseff urged senators to “vote against impeachment, vote for democracy… Do not accept a coup.”
However, huge street demonstrations over the last year have reflected nationwide anger at her management of a country suffering double-digit unemployment and inflation.
And in her hour of need, the Workers’ Party has struggled to stage more than small rallies.
Two thirds of the Senate — 54 of 81 senators — must vote in favor of impeachment to convict her. Most Brasilia watchers said this will be reached.
“The chances of impeachment not passing… are virtually nil,” political analyst Adriano Codato of Parana University said.
Temer, who was in an uncomfortable alliance with Rousseff before finally splitting, will be president until the next scheduled elections in late 2018 if she is removed from office.
The 75-year-old, known more as a backroom wheeler-dealer than street politician, took over in an interim role after Rousseff’s initial suspension in May.
He immediately named a new government with an agenda of shifting Brazil to the right after more than a decade of leftist rule that saw 29 million people lifted from poverty, but became bogged down in corruption and the economic slump.
Temer has earned plaudits from investors, but it remains uncertain whether he will have voters’ support to push through the painful austerity reforms he promises.
Police fire tear gas grenades at supporters of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff holding a demonstration during her impeachment trial in Sao Paulo, Brazil on August 29, 2016
Lawyers presenting closing arguments on Tuesday could not hold back their emotions as the clock wound down on a crisis that has paralyzed Brazilian politics for months, helping deepen national gloom over recession and runaway corruption.
A lead lawyer for the case against Rousseff, Senator Janaina Paschoal, wept as she asked forgiveness for causing the president “suffering,” but insisted it was the right thing to do.
“Impeachment is a constitutional remedy that we need to resort to when the situation gets particularly serious, and that is what has happened,” she said, rejecting Rousseff’s coup claim.
“The Brazilian people must be aware that nothing illegal and illegitimate is being done here.”
“This is a farce,” he said in a speech during which his voice alternated between shouts and near whispers.
“We should ask her forgiveness if she is convicted,” he added. “History will treat her fairly. History will absolve Dilma Rousseff if you convict her.”