President Dilma Rousseff yesterday warned that the impeachment process against her will harm Brazil’s stability and suggested that sexism played a part in efforts to oust its first female head of state.
The 68-year-old leftist leader pressed her case against what she calls a “coup” attempt, insisting that there was no legal basis to remove her from office.
“This will not bring political stability. Why will it not bring political stability? Because it breaks the foundation of democracy,” Rousseff said at a news conference with foreign journalists.
Rousseff is close to losing her job as the Senate prepares to schedule a vote on whether to open an impeachment trial, expected in mid-May, after the lower house of Congress overwhelmingly approved the measure on Sunday.
The political crisis is among a slew of challenges besetting Latin America’s biggest economy: A deep recession, a massive corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras, the fight against the Zika virus and preparations for the Rio Olympics in August.
When asked whether the fact that she’s Brazil’s first woman president influenced the impeachment process, Rousseff said: “I believe that it is a big component.”
She said she heard misogynist comments from a businessman suggesting that a woman under pressure can be “hysterical and unbalanced.”
“They’re not satisfied that I’m not nervous, hysterical or unbalanced,” she said, recalling that she survived torture as a member of a guerrilla group under the military dictatorship in the 1970s.
“There’s a level of great prejudice against women mixed up in all of this. Great prejudice,” she said, adding that she faced “a treatment that certainly would not be given to a male president.”
Looking tired, Rousseff struck an emotional tone when she said it was “lamentable” that lower house deputy Jair Bolsonaro - a rightwing populist who praises the military dictatorship of 1964-1985 - dedicated his pro-impeachment vote on Sunday to Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a colonel accused of overseeing torture during the regime.
While Rousseff struck back at critics, the Senate was to open formalities by reading the 12,000 pages of the impeachment papers alleging that her administration took unauthorised state loans to mask government budget holes during an election year.
The president denied committing any crime, saying that her government used accounting practices that are common in other countries and were used by her predecessors.
Senators must now agree on the composition of a special impeachment committee. A vote on launching the trial is expected to take place by May 11.
A tally by the daily Folha de S.Paulo showed that 48 senators are in favour of impeachment, more than the simple majority needed in the 81-member chamber to start proceedings.
Rousseff would then be suspended for six months during the trial. She would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, a former ally of the centrist PMDB party who turned against her.
A two-thirds majority will be needed to permanently remove her from office, which would leave Temer at the helm until her term ends in late 2018.
This “is an attempt at circumventing elections by a group that would not be able to get itself elected,” Rousseff said.
She singled out Temer as being behind part of the “conspiracy” and noted that the lawmaker who launched the impeachment process, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, faces corruption charges.
Both men are members of the PMDB, a former coalition partner which defected from Rousseff and threw its weight behind the impeachment process.
Rousseff said that despite the upheaval the Olympics, due to be hosted in Rio de Janeiro in August, will go well. “I am certain these will be the best Olympic Games in the country and beyond - in the whole world,” she said.
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