Brazil speaker and government fan impeachment fire with exchange of barbs

BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazil’s presidential chief of staff traded barbs with the speaker of the lower house of Congress yesterday as President Dilma Rousseff’s government marshaled its defense for the impeachment proceedings launched against her on Wednesday.

With each camp branding the other liars, the unpopular president looked likely to face a drawn-out battle to stay in office at a time when Latin America’s largest economy is reeling from a deep recession and a vast corruption scandal.

Rousseff is expected to narrowly survive the proceedings because her party and allies, for now, appear to control enough seats to defeat those who support impeachment.

The government estimated conservatively that it already had firm support from 140 lawmakers in the lower house – shy of the 172 votes needed to block the process – and was seeking more, an aide to Rousseff said.

Even though it may not ultimately unseat Rousseff, the process adds one more obstacle for a government struggling with political gridlock as it seeks congressional support for policies meant to restore economic growth.

“This will have a negative impact on the real economy,” said Carlos Thadeu de Freitas, chief economist at the National Confederation of Commerce and a former central bank director.

The opposition has said Rousseff broke budget laws to safeguard economic stimulus during her successful re-election campaign last year.

The president, in office since 2011, denies any wrongdoing.

Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, said the government and its allies were appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the impeachment request because it lacked legal basis. He accused Rousseff’s opponents of being bad losers trying to reverse their narrow election defeat by undemocratic means.

“If temporary unpopularity is reason to remove an elected official, we will have a greatly weakened democracy,” Wagner told reporters.

Credit ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s said on Thursday that political uncertainty stemming from the impeachment proceedings could undermine efforts to shore up public accounts.

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