Brazil president takes Olympic time out from impeachment

4 min

Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Dilma Rousseff tried to make it look like business as usual Friday with a visit to the Rio Olympics site, but time was running out for the Brazilian president ahead of a key impeachment vote.

The inspection trip to Rio, including an inauguration ceremony for the Olympic swimming center, was a bitter-sweet occasion for a president who no longer knows if she'll even be in power when the Summer Games kick off August 5.

The Olympics, the first ever staged in South America, were awarded back in 2009 when Brazil was an emerging markets high flier and Rousseff's leftist mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was one of the most popular presidents in the world.

Now Rousseff is fighting desperately ahead of an impeachment vote in Congress while ex-president Lula faces corruption charges.

Rousseff stood with other officials at the side of the sparkling Olympic pool and sung the national anthem.

But she was due to return to a grimmer reality by the of the day in the capital Brasilia, where a congressional commission is preparing to vote Monday on whether to recommend her removal from office.

A week later, comes a vote by the lower house of Congress, where a two thirds majority would send Rousseff to a full impeachment trial in the Senate.

She is accused of breaking the law by juggling government accounts to disguise the depth of budget shortfalls during her 2014 reelection.

Rousseff argues that this relatively technical accusation does not amount to an impeachable offense.

However, momentum for her removal is being fueled by a massive recession, political paralysis, and a sprawling corruption scandal that together have reduced the Rousseff government's approval ratings to around 10 percent.

- Already 'not a president' -

Rousseff's opponents sense that the country's first female president, a former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured under a military dictatorship, is as good as finished.

"We are living in a situation where the government does not govern and the president of the republic is no longer the president," said Moreira Franco, a former minister from the centrist PMDB party which was until recently allied with Rousseff's Workers' Party but now supports impeachment.

"The president is isolated in the palace and the nation has repeatedly demonstrated its disgust for her," he told Folha newspaper.

However Rousseff, who calls the impeachment a coup attempt, still hopes to engineer a famous comeback.

Latest counts Friday indicated that the result in the lower house is on a knife edge.

The respected Datafolha polling organization said that 60 percent of deputies are pro-impeachment, representing the equivalent of 308 out of the 513, when a total of 342 are needed to pass the measure -- or 172 to defeat it.

According to the poll, 18 percent of deputies are still undecided, meaning they currently hold the deciding votes.

O Estadao newspaper's estimate, based on individual head counts, showed 277 in favor and 114 against, with 62 saying they were undecided and 60 not answering.

- Storm clouds -

Lula, who founded the Workers' Party and retains huge influence on the left, is coordinating the intense behind-the-scenes haggling to secure those votes.

But the veteran wheeler and dealer faces his own potential downfall.

He is accused of money laundering in a case linked to a gargantuan embezzlement and bribery scheme at state oil company Petrobras which has already seen dozens of high ranking politicians and executives snared by prosecutors.

Lula says the case is a politicized fabrication, but now he and Rousseff are also both in trouble for allegedly trying to obstruct prosecutors.

At issue is Rousseff's surprise naming of Lula to her cabinet, where he would gain considerable ministerial immunity from the corruption prosecutors. Rousseff and Lula say he was named because of his important political role, rather than any attempt to escape legal troubles.

On Thursday, Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot said there was "evidence" of obstruction.

The Supreme Court is expect to rule in the coming days on whether Lula can take up the post or not. If not, then hard-hitting anti-corruption prosecutors would be free to go after him.