A committee of Brazil’s lower house of Congress has voted 38-27 to recommend the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, who faces charges of breaking budget laws to support her re-election in 2014.
A vote in the full lower house is expected to take place on Sunday. If two thirds vote in favour, the impeachment will be sent to the Senate.
If the upper house decides by a simple majority to put Ms Rousseff on trial, she will immediately be suspended for up to six months while the Senate decides her fate, and vice-president Michel Temer will take office as acting president.
It would be the first impeachment of a Brazilian president since 1992, when Fernando Collor de Mello resigned moments before his conviction by the Senate.
A former leftist guerrilla, Ms Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and rallied the rank and file of her Workers’ Party to oppose what she has called a coup against a democratically-elected president.
Speaking to thousands of supporters in Rio de Janeiro, Ms Rousseff’s predecessor and Workers’ Party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Brazilian business elites were pressuring lawmakers to remove the president.
Lula, who is under investigation in a graft probe, said he had convinced Ms Rousseff to return to policies that favoured Brazil’s poor.
Caught in a political storm fuelled by Brazil’s worst recession in decades and the country’s biggest corruption scandal, Ms Rousseff has lost key coalition allies in Congress, including her main partner, Mr Temer’s PMDB party.
The rift between Mr Rousseff and her vice president reached breaking point on Monday after an audio message of Mr Temer calling for a government of national unity was released apparently by mistake, further muddying Brazil’s political water.
Mr Temer’s 14-minute audio message sent to members of his own PMDB party via the WhatsApp messaging app showed he was preparing to take over if Ms Rousseff is forced out.
The audio was posted on the website of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper and is authentic. Aides said it was accidentally released and they quickly sent another message asking legislators to disregard it.
Ms Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, called the vice president a “conspirator” and said he should resign if Ms Rousseff survives impeachment.
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