Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Saturday appealed to the nation to save her from a “coup d’etat” by “corrupt” rivals as the fight for her political life entered its final hours ahead of a crucial impeachment vote.
The widely unpopular president lashed out at what she said was an “illegal” impeachment motion expected to be passed in the country’s congress on Sunday, saying her opponents wanted to “condemn an innocent and save the corrupt”.
But in a sign of the fragility of her position, the 68-year-old Leftist leader abandoned two public appearances this weekend as she and her team battled around the clock to try to shore up support against the impeachment threat.
Ms Rousseff had recorded a message to the nation to air on Friday night, which was abandoned at the last minute for fear of provoking protests and public disapproval.
In the address, which was later leaked, she described the impeachment petition as a “putschist adventure” led by her power-hungry and corrupted opponents.
She added in a piece for Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper: “I’m not a suspect, I’m not being investigated, I am not a defendant, but they want to bring me down through an illegal impeachment.”
“We are facing the threat of a coup d’etat, a coup without guns that uses more destructive methods like fraud and lies to try to destroy a legitimately elected government,” the president wrote.
She also ditched a planned visit to the anti-impeachment camp in the capital Brasilia on Saturday to focus on winning over congress members.
Instead, her predecessor and Workers’ Party stalwart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sent out to replace her.
In his gravelly voice and shirtsleeves, the popular former union leader said the impeachment of Ms Rousseff would mean the defeat of democracy by a “Brazilian elite” which found it unpalatable.
“It’s a war,” he told supporters outside the city’s Mane Garrincha stadium. “Our fight is for democracy. We have to talk to congressmen 24 hours a day to convince them.”
A former Marxist guerrilla, Ms Rousseff has become the least popular president since the last Brazilian leader to be impeached, Fernando Collor, in 1992, with approval ratings as low as 10 per cent.
Since taking over from Mr Lula, Ms Rousseff has presided over the country’s worst recession in 25 years, its biggest ever sleaze inquiry and the Zika virus epidemic.
In the impeachment petition, she was accused of manipulating government accounts to conceal a deficit ahead of her 2014 re-election, using accounting tricks common among government leaders. She denies the claims.
“To steal a piece of money is no less than stealing the hope of the future,” said Miguel Reale Junior, who co-authored the impeachment case.
Members began discussing the motion on Friday morning, hours after the Supreme Court had rejected the government’s last-ditch attempt to have the vote postponed. The latest polls suggested the opposition had secured the necessary two-thirds, or 342, votes in favour, which would move the process on to the senate.
With a simple majority in the senate, Ms Rousseff would then be suspended for 180 days while a trial was heard, exacerbating the political uncertainty until well after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
But there was also a late movement to block the impeachment process as confidence dwindled in Ms Rousseff’s potential replacement, the vice-president, Michel Temer. It left a sliver of hope that the president might survive by a whisker for want of a better alternative.
Ms Rousseff also received support on Friday from the visiting head of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro.
“There is no criminal accusation against the president, rather she has been accused of the poor administration of public resources in 2014,” Mr Almagro said, raising concerns about the fate of Latin America’s most populous democracy. “This is an accusation that is political in character, and that does not merit an impeachment process.”
Supporters also note that in the line of succession to take over if she were ousted have also been implicated in the “Car Wash” operation, a multi-billion dollar corruption probe that has uncovered a widespread bribery scheme within the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.
Hundreds of thousands from both the for and against camps are expected to take to the streets on Sunday, and few believe the result will end the country’s crisis.
“We came to join the defence of democracy and the government that was legitimately elected in 2014,” said Rousseff supporter Tiago Almeida, 35, a metal worker from the state of Sao Paulo.
Credit: The Telegraph (UK)