Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff vowed on Monday to fight impeachment to the very end in the Senate after a Sunday heavy defeat in the lower house of Congress raised the likelihood of an end to her administration and 13 years of populist rule in Latin America's largest economy.
In a raucous vote late on Sunday that sparked jubilation among Rousseff's foes, the opposition comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority needed to send Brazil's first female president for trial in the Senate on charges she manipulated budget accounts.
If the Senate votes by a simple majority to accept the case next month, as is expected, Rousseff would become the first Brazilian leader to be impeached for more than 20 years. She would be removed for 180 days while the upper house makes a final decision on the issue: a two thirds majority would force her from office.
The crisis has paralyzed the government as it struggles to revive the economy from its worst recession in decades. It has also sparked a bitter struggle between Rousseff, a former guerrilla, and her Vice President Michel Temer, who would take power if she is impeached.
Addressing the nation on television, a combative Rousseff insisted that she had committed no impeachable crime and accused Temer of openly conspiring to topple her government in what she described as a 'coup'.
While I am very saddened by this, I have the force, the spirit and the courage to fight this whole process to the end, Rousseff told the televised news conference. This is just the beginning of the battle, which will be long and drawn out.
Rousseff stands accused of cosmetic accounting tricks, employed by many elected officials in Brazil, basically delaying payments to state lenders in order to artificially lower the budget deficit to boost her reelection bid in 2014.
Nevertheless, opinion polls show more than 70% of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, less than two years after she narrowly won reelection in the runoff. Her popularity has collapses by the recession and a vast graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
A Rousseff aide said the government would focus on clawing back support in the 81-seat Senate, where it lacks the simple majority needed to prevent the case being accepted for trial. Given that it currently has the support of only 31 senators, the aide said the situation looked very difficult.
The government has been looking to Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros, a crucial but fickle ally of Rousseff's, to delay the Senate vote as long as possible to give it time to negotiate. However, Calheiros said on Monday he would remain neutral and would meet with party leaders in the Senate on Tuesday to define the calendar for the process.
Senior Workers Party figures have pledged, if necessary, to take their struggle onto the streets, raising concerns that it could seek to destabilize a future Temer government.
Despite anger at rising unemployment, the party can still rely on support among millions of working-class Brazilians, who credit its welfare programs with pulling their families out of poverty during the past decade.
The U.S. State Department voiced confidence on Monday that Brazil would navigate the political crisis democratically in accordance with the constitution.
Brazilian financial markets have rallied strongly this year after a disastrous 2015 on the prospect of a more business-friendly Temer administration. Brazil's Bovespa stock index shed 0.75% on Monday, with traders citing profit taking after it gained more than 20% so far in 2016. The currency, Real weakened more than 2% to 3.60 per dollar after the central bank intervened to prevent a sharp rise in the currency.