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Brazil’s Supreme Court Clears Way for Impeachment of President
BRASÍLIA—Brazil’s Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for impeachment proceedings to move forward against President Dilma Rousseff, but under conditions that may increase her chances of surviving her adversaries’ efforts to oust her from office.
The high court ruled that a congressional special committee formed earlier this month to guide the impeachment process through Brazil’s lower house of congress must be disbanded and re-formed under new rules that likely will produce a committee more favorable to the president.
“The decision today is positive for Dilma because it increases the chances of her avoiding impeachment,” said Lucas de Aragao at political consultancy firm Arko Advice in São Paulo. “The new committee should be more balanced.”
The court’s ruling was the latest turn in a dramatic power struggle between Brazil’s executive and legislative branches that has transfixed, dismayed and angered the nation for months.
Political foes of Ms. Rousseff, who allege the president manipulated Brazil’s account books to hide a growing deficit, opened proceedings to remove her from her post two weeks ago.
But the Supreme Court suspended the process at the request of Ms. Rousseff’s allies. They complained the special committee was stacked against her by House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who has battled repeatedly with the president and is under investigation on charges of corruption and money-laundering.
With the Christmas holiday fast approaching and lawmakers soon to adjourn until February, it remains unclear how long it could take for the impeachment saga to play out. After months in which Ms. Rousseff came under withering criticism, as Brazil’s economy sank into recession and her approval ratings plummeted, Thursday’s ruling was at least a temporary reprieve. Still, it is unclear how the process could end.
“The government had a victory today, but it’s too soon to celebrate,” said Carlos Melo, a political analyst at business school Insper in São Paulo. “Things will only heat up in February and no one knows what will happen then.”
Ms. Rousseff repeatedly has denied accusations of manipulating budget figures to disguise her government’s poor fiscal performance, a crime under Brazil’s Fiscal Responsibility Law. The court’s decision provides some clarity in an otherwise cloudy political environment that has all but paralyzed the country’s Congress and shaken investors’ confidence in Brazil’s economic prospects.
Brazil’s gross domestic product is forecast to contract 3.5% this year, the 12-month inflation rate is in double digits, and the budget deficit has swollen to close to 10% of GDP.
Meanwhile, a broad corruption investigation centered on state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, has ensnared policy makers both in Congress and within the executive branch.
Economic legislation needed to help shrink the deficit has stalled in Congress as lawmakers got caught up in the political intrigue and saw dozens of their peers being investigated for allegedly taking kickbacks from Petrobras contractors.
Mr. Cunha, who has denied the allegations against him, has accused the Rousseff administration of plotting with prosecutors against him, a charge that the president has refuted. Ms. Rousseff’s supporters, in turn, have accused Mr. Cunha of launching impeachment proceedings to divert attention from his own troubles with the law. He denies that allegation.