BRASíLIA, Brazil, Mar 21 – Brazil’s struggling leftist government is fighting on two fronts Monday as impeachment proceedings threaten President Dilma Rousseff and legal battles harry her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Rousseff’s presidency appears to be in peril as she fights impeachment, protests, recession and scandal, and her decision to call Lula to the rescue backfired last week when a judge blocked his nomination as chief of staff over pending corruption charges.
As Congress holds a new session Monday, impeachment proceedings launched last week in the lower house appear to be gaining momentum: a poll released Saturday found 68 percent of Brazilians now favor impeaching Rousseff — up eight percentage points from February.
A separate poll Sunday found the congressional impeachment committee weighing the accusations against Rousseff is almost evenly split: 32 members favor impeachment, 31 are against and two are undecided.
Taking the lower house as a whole, 62 percent of lawmakers think Rousseff will be removed from office — nearly triple the last poll, in February.
Rousseff is accused of manipulating the government’s accounts in 2014 to boost public spending during her re-election campaign, and again in 2015 to hide the depth of the recession.
The committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the full Congress on whether to impeach.
A vote by two-thirds of the 513 lawmakers in the lower house and half the 81 senators would trigger an impeachment trial in the Senate.
In that event, Rousseff would be suspended from her duties for up to 180 days.
A two-thirds vote would remove her from office.
Lula vs. the courts
Lula is meanwhile fighting for his blocked cabinet post, and the ministerial immunity that comes with it.
His lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on Sunday to annul a ruling by one of its own judges suspending his appointment.
His foundation, the Lula Institute, lashed out at what it called a “series of arbitrary actions” by the judiciary since Lula came under suspicion in the investigation into a multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Lula, who presided over a booming Brazil from 2003 to 2011, has been charged with money laundering over a luxury apartment and a country home he is suspected of receiving as bribes from companies implicated in the scandal.
His foundation dismissed the charges as unfounded and accused investigators of waging a “media assassination” campaign.
It condemned Lula’s detention for questioning earlier this month as “violent, coercive… and baseless,” and said a pending request for his arrest is “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional.”
Until the Supreme Court reaches a final ruling on Lula’s appointment, he risks being placed in preventive detention by the crusading anti-corruption judge leading the Petrobras investigation, Sergio Moro.
The court is not due to reconvene until March 30.
Lula and Rousseff start the week under the cloud of explosive accusations at the weekend by a former ally charged in the Petrobras scandal.
Senator Delcidio do Amaral, a former Senate leader for the ruling Workers’ Party, said in an interview that Lula masterminded the graft scheme, and that Rousseff “knew everything” and used some of the proceeds to fund her presidential campaigns.
It is the latest damaging allegation from the senator, who had earlier accused Rousseff of trying to buy his silence.
He made that accusation as part of a plea bargain in return for a lighter sentence — the kind of deal investigators have used repeatedly to implicate a steadily growing Who’s Who of business and political elites.
Brazilian politics has been upended by the scandal, after 13 years of dominance by the Workers’ Party.
The crisis has triggered angry protests laying bare sharp divisions in the country.
Mass rallies for and against Rousseff rocked Brazil last week, just months from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.