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Impeachment looms as coalition partners set to quit Brazil government

Evaristo Sa, AFP | Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer during a ceremony in Brasilia on October 5, 2015

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s main coalition partners appeared set to quit her government on Tuesday, in a move that would deepen the country’s political crisis and push her closer to impeachment.


Leaders of the country's largest party, the centrist PMDB, were meeting in the capital of Brasilia to decide whether to stay or to leave the embattled left-wing leader’s government. But top party members, including Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, signalled a split was imminent.

"It will be an exit meeting, a goodbye to the government. We calculate we have a vote of more than 80 percent in favour of quitting," said PMDB lawmaker Osmar Terra. "There has been a series of dominoes falling, and it cannot be turned back. The government keeps trying, and offers government positions, but nobody believes it anymore," he added.

In a likely omen for Tuesday’s PMDB vote, Tourism Minister Henrique Eduardo Alves presented Rousseff with his resignation on Monday.

“Dialogue, I regret to say, has been exhausted,” Alves, a PMDB leader and former speaker of the lower house of Congress, told Rousseff in a resignation letter that was shared on the PMDB’s website.

Rousseff, who began serving her second presidential term in 2014, is struggling with a stalled economy, an epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and accusations of corruption within her Workers Party (PT), with massive protest marches across the country in recent weeks.

Lawmakers have also launched impeachment proceedings against Rousseff based on allegations she mismanaged the country’s budget and hid the extent of the country’s recession.

The PMDB’s exit from the government will effectively free its members to vote for her impeachment in an upcoming Congressional ballot. Rousseff vigorously denies any wrongdoing and rejects charges that she manipulated government spending accounts.

AFP reported that Tuesday’s PMDB meeting could result not only in a vote to quit Rousseff’s coalition, but also a deadline for PMDB members to step down from key cabinet posts. The PMDB currently has seven ministers.

Magic number of 342

President Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who was appointed her chief of staff in a controversial move on March 17 – had expressed hope they could convince PMDB ministers to stay.

A break-up between the ruling PT and its PMDB partners could spur other smaller coalition partners to similar action, observers said. The Progressive Party (PP) and the Republican Party (PR), each with 40 seats or more in the lower chamber, have suggested they would also contemplate leaving.

Both sides are lobbying to either reach or block the magic number of 342 votes in the lower house of Congress – the two-thirds majority needed to open an impeachment trial in the Senate. One PMDB senator, Valdir Raupp, said it would be almost impossible to stop the impeachment if it passed in the lower house.

An impeachment vote is expected as soon as mid-April in the lower house. If Rousseff fails to rally enough support to block it, she would be suspended for up to six months at the start of the trial and Vice President Temer would become acting president.

The impeachment process only adds to the crisis hitting Brazil, shaken by its biggest corruption scandal in history, and which has not spared the PMDB itself.

Investigations into the so-called Operation Car Wash have uncovered widespread kickbacks to the ruling coalition and other parties from contractors working for state oil company Petrobras.

The vice president himself has not been formally implicated in the Petrobras scandal, but members of his party are allegedly deeply involved.

Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha, the top-ranking member of congress and a top PMDB member, is also facing corruption charges related to the Petrobras case for allegedly receiving millions in bribes and having undeclared Swiss bank accounts


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