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Brasilia: Brazilian lawmakers pushed President Dilma Rousseff a step closer to impeachment after a committee in the lower house voted for her ouster in the first formal test of sentiment in Congress.

With a tally of 38 in favour and 27 against, a special lower house committee on Monday night recommended impeachment proceed on allegations that Rousseff bypassed Congress to illegally finance a budget deficit. The margin was wider than originally forecast, and sets the stage for a showdown when lawmakers vote on the floor of the lower house as early as Sunday, said political analyst Andre Cesar, founder of consulting company Hold Assessoria Legislativa in Brasilia who has followed Brazil’s Congress for 20 years.

“The result is still open, but the opposition is gaining ground," Cesar said. “There is a strong anti-government sentiment."

An exchange-traded fund of Brazilian stocks rose 3.3% in Tokyo following the committee decision, on investor optimism a new government will be better equipped to revive the lagging economy. The real closed before the vote, advancing the most among major currencies amid expectations the outcome would favour impeachment.

Despite the growing support for Rousseff’s ouster, the opposition still lacks the two-thirds majority needed for impeachment to pass in the lower house and advance to the Senate, according to some surveys. Several centrist legislators remain undecided whether to support Rousseff or side with Vice President Michel Temer, who would replace her and whose party abandoned the ruling alliance last month.

The anti-government organization VemPraRua, “To the Street," said as of Monday afternoon there were 291 votes for and 128 against impeachment in the lower house. A group of Rousseff allies, including members of her Workers’ Party, said there were 126 votes against the president’s ouster. A survey by Estado de S. Paulo newspaper showed 298 legislators in favour of impeachment, an increase of 64 votes since 5 April.

According to one senior lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the vote could be decided by a margin of 30 votes.

Temer’s speech

In one of several surprising twists that have marked a political crisis pushing Brazil deeper into recession, a recording on Monday leaked of Temer addressing the outlines of an administration under his leadership. Opposition legislators said the tape was evidence that Temer was conspiring to overthrow Rousseff and undermined the impeachment process.

Other potential pitfalls to a lower house vote on Sunday include government plans to challenge the impeachment process before the Supreme Court, citing among other concerns insufficient legal grounds for her removal from office. Rousseff, 68, who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship that ended in 1985, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said that the push to oust her without sufficient evidence would amount to a coup.

Even if Rousseff were to survive impeachment, she still faces the risk of a prolonged power struggle during the remainder of her term through December 2018. Lower house chief Eduardo Cunha said last week that he could admit nine other requests for Rousseff’s ouster. Also, the electoral court is still analyzing whether to annul her 2014 re-election on allegations it was financed with graft money, charges the administration denies.

Build-up

Meanwhile, authorities in the capital, Brasilia, have been bracing for mass demonstrations in coming days, erecting metal barriers in the city’s main avenue to separate opposing factions. Residents of Sao Paulo could be heard banging pots and pans as well as honking their car horns immediately after Monday’s committee vote.

As of Monday afternoon, 184,000 people throughout Brazil signed up on VemPraRua’s Facebook page to demonstrate Sunday in favour of Rousseff’s ouster. The figure is similar to the number of people who signed up for demonstrations a week before the 13 March protests, which ultimately attracted over 3 million people nationwide.

Government supporters gathered in Rio de Janeiro on Monday evening to pressure legislators to stop impeachment. Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, addressed the crowd, comparing efforts to remove the president from office to the 1964 coup that led to a military dictatorship. Bloomberg

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