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Brazil’s new president faces immediate challenge from Rousseff

Brazil’s Senate voted to convict Dilma Rousseff for illegally manipulating government accounts and oust her as president © AFP / Evaristo Sa

Brasília, Brazil, Sep 1 – Impeached Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff filed a Supreme Court challenge Thursday to her removal from office in an immediate blow to new President Michel Temer’s bid to stabilize the country and consolidate power.

The appeal, filed by Rousseff’s lawyer Jose Eduardo Cardozo and seen by AFP, demands “the immediate suspension of the effects of the Senate decision.”

The Senate voted Wednesday to convict Rousseff on charges of having illegally manipulated government accounts, stripping her of her office and replacing her with Temer, her bitter enemy and former vice president.

Cardozo’s appeal asks for “a new trial” during which Temer — who was sworn in as president up until the end of 2018 — would be downgraded to interim president.

Temer is now in China, attending a G20 summit, while Rousseff remains in the Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia. She is expected to leave shortly for her personal apartment in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Brazil’s Senate voted to convict Dilma Rousseff for illegally manipulating government accounts and oust her as president © AFP / Gustavo Izús

But the court challenge is only one of the many challenges stacking up for Temer, whose declared mission to fix the economy will require pushing painful reforms through the same hostile Congress that brought down Rousseff.

“There will be no honeymoon,” said Andre Cesar, a political analyst in Brasilia.

“Temer will have to negotiate unpopular measures in Congress and being president is very different to being a legislator, which is the experience he has,” Cesar said.

Rousseff was convicted by a two-thirds Senate majority of taking illegal state loans to patch budget holes in 2014, masking the country’s problems as it slid into economic disarray.

Senators voting for her removal said she had contributed to Brazil’s economic crisis and acted with criminal irresponsibility.

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Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, denied doing anything illegal and claimed to be the victim of a right-wing coup d’etat.

In a surprise move, a Senate vote on barring Rousseff from public office for eight years failed, meaning she is free to reenter political life. The ban had been considered by many to be a standard consequence of removal in an impeachment trial.

– Challenges for new leader –

President Michel Temer waves as he takes office before the plenary of the Brazilian Senate in Brasilia, on August 31, 2016 © AFP/File / Andressa Anholete

Rousseff left office with rock bottom ratings after being blamed by most Brazilians for the country’s slide into double-digit inflation and unemployment. She has also been tainted by the revelation of a colossal embezzlement and kickbacks scheme at state oil giant Petrobras, although she has not been accused of participating herself.

Temer, from the center-right PMDB party, rode that dissatisfaction all the way to the presidency in an impeachment process he describes as giving Brazil a chance to put its house back in order.

Soon after being sworn in Wednesday he told the nation that his only goal was to serve until 2018, leaving behind “a country that is reconciled, pacified and growing economically.”

But Rousseff, who describes Temer as a coup plotter, went down fighting.

“They have convicted an innocent person and carried out a parliamentary coup,” she said after the Senate vote on Wednesday, adding, defiantly, that she’d “be back.”

A worker removes the inscription “Temer Out”, written on the street in front of the Alvorada Palace presidential residence on September 1, 2016 in Brasilia © AFP / Evaristo Sa

Rousseff’s coup accusation has gained only scattered support abroad and in a boost for Temer the US State Department said that the impeachment process was “in accordance with Brazil’s constitutional framework.”

“We’re confident that we will continue the strong bilateral relationship that exists between our two countries as the two largest democracies and economies in the hemisphere. Brazil and the United States are committed partners,” said spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday.

However, Temer’s struggle to consolidate power will face repeated challenges from the Workers’ Party and allied leftist organizations.

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Spending cuts, privatizations and attempting to curb the generous pension system — including by setting a minimum retirement age — are likely to provoke strong opposition both on the streets and in Congress.

“The priority for Temer will be addressing the country’s fiscal deficit, which is currently at 10.1 percent of GDP and widening,” said a post-impeachment vote analysis by IHS Country Risk.

However, “strikes and industrial action risks are likely to increase over the next year,” the analysis said.


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