Brasilia: A congressional committee on Monday recommended impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, setting the stage for a crucial vote in the lower house to decide whether she should face trial.
The committee voted 38 to 27 in favor of Rousseff`s ouster. Both sides yelled slogans and waved placards as the vote was completed after hours of bad-tempered debate that often descended into shouting matches, reflecting Brazil`s increasingly bitter divisions.
The decision was non-binding. However, it was symbolically important as a preview of the decisive battle in the full lower chamber expected Sunday or the following Monday.
"It was a victory for the Brazilian people," said opposition deputy Jovair Arantes, predicting that the result would carry with "strong" pro-impeachment momentum into the full chamber`s vote.
In the Chamber of Deputies, a two-thirds majority would send Rousseff`s case to the Senate, which would then have the power to put her on trial and ultimately drive her from office. Anything less would torpedo the procedure.
Rousseff, accused of fiddling accounts to mask the dire state of the government budget during her 2014 re-election, is fighting desperately to secure enough anti-impeachment votes or persuade deputies to abstain.
The latest survey of the 513 deputies in the lower house by Estadao daily on Monday showed 298 in favor, still short of the 342 needed to carry the motion. The count showed 119 opposing impeachment, with 172 required to impose a defeat.
That left the result in the hands of the 96 deputies still undecided or not stating a position.
Pro-government deputy Silvio Costa said he was confident. "The opposition is very arrogant" after Monday`s committee victory, he said.
With Latin America`s biggest country gripped by recession, political paralysis and a vast corruption scandal, passions on both sides are intense.
A barricade was erected along the Esplanade of Ministries in the capital Brasilia to separate opposing protesters that police expect could number as many as 300,000 during the lower house vote.
More than 4,000 police and firefighters will be on duty, G1 news site reported, and security Monday was stepped up at Congress, with heavy restrictions on access to the building.If the case is taken up by the Senate after being confirmed by the lower house, Rousseff would have to step down for up to 180 days while a trial is held. Her vice president, Michel Temer, who has gone over to the opposition, would take the reins.
Temer would also remain president if a two-thirds majority in the Senate votes to depose Rousseff.