Brazil’s Supreme Court on Friday rejected a last-ditch attempt by President Dilma Rousseff to halt the impeachment process against her, clearing the way for a key vote in the Congress.
Justices refused a request for an injunction against proceedings that the government lawyer called “Kafkaesque” and said amounted to denying Rousseff the opportunity to defend herself against allegations of illegally fudging government budget numbers to boost her re-election chances in 2014.
The 7-3 ruling in an emergency Supreme Court session that began late Thursday and went well past midnight in the capital Brasilia paved the way for Sunday’s vote by the lower house of Congress, which is due to decide whether to send Rousseff to an impeachment trial.
In an atmosphere of maximum drama and tension in Latin America’s largest country and economy, debate in the lower house begins later Friday leading up to the vote on Sunday.
If the vote passes on Sunday, the Senate will have authority to open a trial against Rousseff. If the Senate finds her guilty with another two-thirds vote, she would be forced from office.
That leaves Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer closing in on the interim presidency, as required under the constitution should Rousseff be suspended or removed from office.
Temer and Rousseff always made an awkward couple. As head of the PMDB centrist party, Temer represented the biggest force in leftist Rousseff’s shaky coalition.
For years, the PMDB played that kingmaker role and it worked. But in March, the party voted to quit the government and go into opposition, supporting the rush to impeach Rousseff.
The 75-year-old lawyer has a low profile for someone in such a lynchpin position at the top of Latin America’s biggest country and economy.
A constitutional scholar, he is perhaps best known to voters for having a 32-year-old former beauty contestant as a wife.
But now, with his boss possibly sliding toward political oblivion, Temer appears hungry to take himself and his party out of the shadows.
In fact Rousseff accuses him of manipulating the impeachment proceedings to rise to the top, calling him a “conspirator.”
Temer, seen as a master operator in the snakepit of Brasilia’s Congressional politics, initially played his cards cautiously.
For months he made his displeasure at Rousseff known, sending a letter in December where he complained of feeling undervalued as “a decorative vice president.”
But he was careful to stay on the fence, even as other PMDB members openly attacked Rousseff and pushed ahead the impeachment momentum.
Occasionally, he let the mask slip, publishing a document in October called “A bridge to the future” in which he criticized “excesses” in government policies.
But while lower-level supporters liked to refer to him as “President Temer,” he insisted he had no ambitions, except perhaps at the next scheduled elections in 2018.
Finally last month Temer came out into the open, calling on the PMDB to abandon the government and go into opposition.
But nothing was as brazen as the leaking Monday of an audio recording where he practices the speech he’d give if he replaces Rousseff.
“We are living in strange and worrying times, times of a coup and pretending and treachery,” Rousseff said. “Yesterday they used the pretense of a leak to give the order for the conspiracy.”
For such a colorless, backroom wheeler and dealer, Temer has a surprising side.
Not only is he married to a woman less than half his age, but this is his third marriage. He has five children born across four decades.
Nor is he the stuffed suit that he might appear on television. In addition to a highly regarded work on constitutional law, this child of Lebanese immigrants has authored a book of poetry.
He has served three times as speaker of the lower house of Congress and has been president of the PMDB for 15 years.
Temer does not apologize for his dour manner, telling Piaui magazine in 2010 that joking is not his thing. “I don’t know how to do this. If I tried, it would be a disaster.”
That persona may account for his rock-bottom popularity -- he would get just one percent of the vote in a presidential race against other leading figures, according to a recent Datafolha poll.
Becoming interim president because of a Rousseff impeachment would be one way for the kingmaker to become king.