BRASÍLIA — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took off the gloves Tuesday, branding her vice president a traitor and coup-plotter ahead of an impeachment vote in Congress, with a party once in the ruling coalition set to cast a ballot against her.
In a blistering speech, Rousseff, 68, charged: "If there were any doubts about my reporting that a coup is under way, there can’t be now."
Referring to Monday’s leak of an audio recording in which Vice President Michel Temer practices the speech he would make if Rousseff is impeached, the president said: "The conspirators’ mask has slipped.
"We are living in strange and worrying times, times of a coup, and of pretending, and betrayal of trust," she said in the capital Brasilia.
"Yesterday, they used the pretense of a leak to give the order for the conspiracy."
Rousseff is in the final stretch of a bruising attempt to save her presidency from impeachment on charges that she illegally manipulated government accounts to mask the effects of recession during her 2014 re-election.
Temer, who will take over if Rousseff is impeached, countered that a war was being waged against him on both a personal and professional level.
"I’m not waging war, I’m defending myself," he told Globo News.
But making it clear he was ready to step in Rousseff’s shoes, Temer, 75, added: "Without being pretentious, but with much modesty, I must say that I have a lot of experience in public life."
After a congressional committee voted to recommend Rousseff’s ouster in chaotic and bad-tempered scenes late Monday, the stage was set for a weekend showdown in the full lower house.
Scramble for votes
Deputies were due to start debating Friday, with a decisive vote on Sunday, officials said.
"Voting will begin on Sunday at 2:00 pm (1700 GMT) and we calculate that the result will be late that evening," a spokesman for the speaker’s office said.
If the house reaches a two-thirds majority, or 342 deputies, Rousseff’s case is sent to the Senate. Anything less, and Rousseff will walk away with her job.
The latest survey of the 513 deputies in the lower house by Estadao daily showed 300 favoring impeachment and 125 opposed. That left the result in the hands of the 88 deputies still undecided or not stating a position.
Then, after hours of meetings, the Progressive Party announced it has decided to pull out of the ruling coalition, and that most of its 47 lawmakers will vote for her to be impeached.
The PP is one of the larger parties previously largely favorable to her.
Rousseff is hugely unpopular as Brazil sinks into its worst recession in decades. The political system has also been paralyzed by a huge corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
In the latest arrest in the probe, dubbed Operation Car Wash, a former senator who helped lead an anti-corruption committee was charged Tuesday with taking more than $1.5 million in bribes to help corrupt companies avoid scrutiny.
Rousseff and allies, led by ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have fought back hard in the last few days, describing the impeachment drive as a thinly veiled coup plot.
"I would never have thought that my generation would see putschists trying to overthrow a democratically elected president," Lula, who ruled from 2003 to 2011, told thousands of supporters Monday in Rio de Janeiro.
He singled out Temer and Cunha, who has been charged with stashing millions of dollars in bribes in Swiss accounts.
However, Lula himself is charged with money laundering in a Car Wash-related case, and supporters of impeachment say that Rousseff’s allegedly illegal manipulation of government accounts fits a pattern of incompetence and corruption.
If the lower house does approve Rousseff’s impeachment, the case goes to the Senate.
The Senate must then confirm it will take the case, at which point Rousseff would step down for up to 180 days while a trial was held. Temer, who recently left the ruling coalition to enter the opposition, would take over.
To depose Rousseff, the Senate would need to vote by a two-thirds majority, with Temer remaining president to serve out her term.
After winning Monday’s skirmish in the committee, opponents of Rousseff declared they were on a roll.
"It was a victory for the Brazilian people," said opposition deputy Jovair Arantes, predicting that the result would carry with "strong" pro-impeachment momentum into the full chamber’s vote.
But pro-government deputy Silvio Costa said he was also confident.
"The opposition is very arrogant" after Monday’s committee victory, he said.
There were worries that passions will spill over as the lower house vote approaches. Large crowds of both Rousseff supporters and opponents were expected in the capital Brasilia and will be separated by a metal barrier.
More than 4,000 police and firefighters will be on duty, G1 news site reported, and security has been stepped up at Congress, with heavy restrictions on access to the building. — AFP