Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff was preparing to vacate the presidential office on Wednesday after appearing to concede defeat and packing up her belongings as senators voted over her impeachment.
The crucial ballot of 81 senators was widely expected to pass overnight with a simple majority, forcing her to stand aside for 180 days while she is tried for manipulating public accounts.
Ms Rousseff’s fate seemed sealed after the Supreme Court rejected her 11th hour attempt to suspend the impeachment process even as the senate began deliberating.
The president, re-elected for her second term in October 2014, cut a solitary figure as she was photographed taking a walk in the morning before the session opened in senate.
In a sign of resignation to her ouster, she cleared Brasília’s Planalto presidential palace of her belongings to make way for her substitute, vice-president Michel Temer.
But while Mr Temer negotiated his potential new cabinet, politicians warned he faced a difficult challenge.
“The eventual government of Temer will have to act along three axes to recover Brazil’s credibility: economic, political, and with the people,” said senator Cristovam Buarque.
In what could turn out to be one of her last engagements as president, Ms Rousseff appeared to reflect on her time as president, and the 13 years of Workers’ Party rule.
“I carry with me the strength of the women and the men who have become protagonists of their rights, subject of their rights in these last 13 years,” she said, at a national convention for women’s policies on Tuesday.
“I carry with me the 63 million Brazilians who had no medical care and now have through the More Doctors programme.
“I carry in me the strength of the 36 million Brazilians who have left poverty. I also carry all of the more than four million who entered the university. And I carry all those children of bricklayers who became doctors.”
Ms Rousseff is accused of breaking budgetary laws by taking loans to boost public spending and mask the sinking state of the economy during her 2014 re-election campaign.
The political crisis has left Brazil deeply divided, with many outraged at Ms Rousseff for presiding over an economic collapse and colossal corruption epitomised by a sprawling scandal over bribery at the state oil giant Petrobras. Others remain devoted to her Workers’ Party for transformative social programmes that lifted tens of millions of people from poverty, and claim she is the target of a right-wing coup.
The divisions were plain to see outside Congress, where police erected a giant metal wall to keep apart the rival groups of demonstrators expected later in the day. Senate President Renan Calheiros, who was overseeing the proceedings, told reporters that impeachment would be “traumatic” for Brazil.
Meanwhile, almost 70 of the 81 members of senate took turns addressing the house in a lengthy session that started with attempts to delay the process.
Several Workers’ Party and allied senators brought motions to halt the session before it could begin in earnest as they waited in vain for the Supreme Court judgement on the request to block the impeachment vote.
“The magnitude of the political, economic and social impact that an impeachment process against the president would have is enormous,” José Eduardo Cardozo, attorney general, said the court papers.
“The country will need months, if not years, to recompose itself, regardless of the result of the process.”
But Supreme Court justice Teori Zavascki rejected the appeal, leaving it for the senate to vote.
Ana Amélia, of the Progressive party, was the first to address the house and said there was “sufficient evidence” to admit the impeachment petition.
“We here have no joy, this is not a happy time today, given the responsibility that weighs on our shoulders and the recovery of society, which is pressing,” she said.
“This is an historic moment, and we will not turn our backs on Brazilian society. Instead, arm in arm with the population that is watching us at this time, we are giving an answer, I’m sure, is what they expect.”