SAO PAULO, Brazil — Determined to halt what they insist in an insiders’ “coup,” Brazil’s still-potent leftists are rallying behind embattled leader Dilma Rousseff, even as lawmakers in Brasilia debated into the night Wednesday on an impeachment vote that could end her presidency.
The expected Senate vote to impeach Ms. Rousseff means that Michel Temer, her running mate-turned-nemesis, would take over as acting president — a promotion that would become permanent if Ms. Rousseff is convicted. But it doesn’t mean this country’s paralyzing crisis is over.
Despite her precarious situation, a massive government corruption scandal and the worst recession in a century, leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party and other leftist forces have remained fiercely faithful to the protegee of legendary former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whom she succeeded in 2011.
As Brazilians gathered at bars and offices to follow the second round of the lengthy impeachment proceedings in a soccer gamelike atmosphere, otherwise obscure politicians used their time in the spotlight to unleash much fiery hyperbole — and, in the case of Rousseff backers, pledges of unconditional loyalty.
“Tomorrow, I will still be with President Dilma,” a teary-eyed Sen. Jorge Viana told his colleagues in remarks carried live on numerous news channels.
Rep. Luciana Santos of the Communist Party of Brazil, which is part of Ms. Rousseff’s coalition — which has held power for more than a dozen years — went a step further and predicted an open challenge to Mr. Temer’s legitimacy.
“We will have two presidents, one elected by 54 million votes and another, illegitimate, without a single vote,” she said. “There will be a fight in parliament and in the streets.”
The impeachment fight comes as ordinary Brazilians are wearying from a seemingly unending string of reverses, from falling growth rates and the Zika epidemic to the logistical and environmental problems that have cropped up in the preparations for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio that are set to open in just three months.
As the debate went into the night, impeachment supporters adopted an increasingly sharper tone.
“To improve the life of the nation, we need to remove [the Workers’ Party] at this time,” Sen. Magno Malta told a scrum of journalists outside the Senate floor. “We will start to breathe again and the doctor will say the nation has given signs of life, and will be stable soon.”
While the impeachment drive is based on charges that Brazil’s first female president broke fiscal laws, the fight has galvanized both sides and become a referendum on Ms. Rousseff and the political direction of the country as a whole.
But while Ms. Rousseff’s former centrist allies — including Mr. Temer, whom she has since dubbed a “traitor” — have long defected from her administration, not a single prominent Workers’ Party leader or lawmaker has so far dared to challenge the weakened president.
Following a center-right victory in Argentina and the intense pressure President Nicolas Maduro is feeling in Venezuela, the prospect of losing power in the anti-populist wave sweeping Latin America thus far seems to have done more to unite the once-fractured leftist forces than their 13 uninterrupted years in government.
“The Brazilian left is living through a moment of great convergence in a fight it considers a coup,” said Igor Fuser, a former Folha de S.Paulo editor who now teaches at the ABC Federal University outside Sao Paulo.
Efforts to cast the impeachment as an illegitimate putsch reverberate widely among activists whose memories of two decades of often-brutal military rule are still vivid. And though Ms. Rousseff’s chances of political survival are still bleak at best, frenzied backers echoing her vow to “fight through the last minute” managed to score a handful of headline-grabbing — if, at times, short-lived — victories over the past few weeks.
Undercutting the speaker
Their biggest breakthrough came in the form of a May 5 decision by Brazil’s highest court to suspend House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the driving force behind the impeachment proceedings in Congress’ lower chamber and himself a prime suspect in the wide-ranging “Car Wash” corruption investigation.
Though Mr. Cunha’s suspension may ultimately benefit Mr. Temer — a rival within the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party — the enmity between speaker and president had been so bitter that Workers’ Party lawmakers called him a “scoundrel” and “bandit” on the floor during the House’s April 17 impeachment vote.
Tongue-in-cheek, Ms. Rousseff even suggested that the evangelical Mr. Cunha’s attempt to oust her was tantamount to an “original sin,” and the speaker’s replacement, loyalist Waldir Maranhao, this week briefly — and unsuccessfully — tried to annul the proceedings altogether.
Even with Mr. Cunha’s fall, the numbers look bleak for the president. Only a simple majority of 41 votes is needed to suspend her for up to six months pending a trial in the Senate, and media projections said there were at least 50 likely votes in favor of impeachment.
At the trial, expected in the coming months, at least 54 senators would have to vote against Ms. Rousseff to permanently remove her from office.
Most private analysts say there is little doubt that Ms. Rousseff’s career is effectively over, and the Workers’ Party’s best hope to return to power will be to try to sideline Mr. Temer who — as a kind of president-in-waiting — has already spent weeks weighing policy and picking his Cabinet.
“If the Temer administration consolidates, that sooner or later will have a disjunctive effect in the [Workers’ Party],” Mr. Fuser said, noting that there have been some defections on the local level. “Defeat divides,” he added.
Infuriated lawmakers have pledged to challenge Mr. Temer at every turn and vote down all of his proposals — even if they were identical to Ms. Rousseff’s.
“We will not treat him as president,” Ms. do Rosario said. “Our position is to fight against everything he sends us.”
Still, if Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment trial ends in conviction and Mr. Temer serves out her term, most analysts predict a somewhat calmer political scenario and an uptick for the battered Brazilian economy. The 75-year-old Mr. Temer is unlikely to seek re-election in 2018, which might open doors for Mr. da Silva, who led the country from 2003 to 2010.
But like most of Brazil’s political elite, Mr. da Silva is fighting corruption allegations of his own and may be as likely to soon find himself in jail as he is to return to the Planalto Palace, Brazil’s executive mansion, Mr. Fuser said. But many in his party still have their hopes pinned to the party’s iconic first president.
“I believe Temer won’t have many problems in the short term,” Mr. Fuser said. But “Lula could turn out as the great alternative for 2018.”
The 68-year-old Ms. Rousseff has tried to project an air of normalcy as the showdown vote neared, while labeling her opponents “traitors.”
“I’m not tired of fighting,” she said earlier this week.
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.