BRASILIA, April 3 – The Olympic flame arrived in the Brazilian capital Tuesday for a symbolic handover that could mark the last big public appearance of Dilma Rousseff as president if she is impeached.
The flame’s arrival in Brasilia from an ancient Greek temple via Switzerland starts a three-month countdown to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Brazil’s big chance to shine on the global stage.
Rousseff will take hold of the torch in her presidential Planalto Palace in the capital.
It will then be carried around the country by a relay of 12,000 people before reaching the legendary Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the start of the Games on August 5.
The president, 68, will meanwhile be counting down the days until next week.
On May 11 or 12 the Senate is expected to vote to open an impeachment trial against her over allegations that she illegally manipulated government accounts.
Rousseff claims to be the victim of a coup.
If an impeachment trial is launched, she would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, whom she has branded a “traitor.”
A definitive Senate vote on Rousseff’s fate could take months more, but unless she were cleared, her nemesis Temer would stay in power until the next scheduled elections in 2018.
– ‘Fight to the end’ –
Rousseff has vowed to “fight to the end.”
If suspended, she will hunker down at the presidential residence on half pay for up to six months.
From there she will attempt to persuade senators that the accounting tricks she is accused of do not amount to an impeachable offense.
She is accused of dressing the books to cover up the depth of Brazil’s economic crisis.
She says the impeachment drive is a political, not legal assault.
But given the political makeup of the Senate, a vote to suspend her looks almost certain.
Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerrilla who was tortured by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, is widely assumed to be nearing the end of the road.
However, her Workers’ Party, which has dominated and transformed the country since 2003, is still fighting to prevent impeachment from turning into a shift to the right.
Rousseff’s mentor and presidential predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hopes to run for president again in 2018 — or even sooner in special snap elections.
Polls show he would be a frontrunner, trouncing the unpopular Temer.
– ‘No effect’ on Olympics –
Officials insist the political chaos will not harm the Olympics.
“From the point of view of preparing the Games, the crisis has no effect at all,” Brazil’s Sports Minister Ricardo Leyser told AFP last week.
“Our planning and execution plan was truly very good.”
Authorities say most of the building undertaken for the Games has been completed, though construction was overshadowed by the death of 11 workers.
Outbreaks of diseases in Brazil including dengue fever and the Zika virus which is said to cause birth defects have also raised Olympic jitters.
Beset by political conflict, Rousseff recently called for a truce — as was the tradition in ancient times of war when the Olympic flame arrived.
O Globo newspaper reported on Monday that she was considering stepping down and seeking a reform to allow fresh elections in October.
That would put pressure on Temer, who has low approval ratings and is hoping to step straight into the president’s chair if she is impeached.