The largest party in Brazil’s lower house of Congress re-elected a pro-government leader, strengthening President Dilma Rousseff’s hand in fending off impeachment.
In a 37 to 30 vote, deputies of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, re-elected Congressman Leonardo Picciani, who has spoken out against efforts to remove Rousseff from office on charges she broke the budget law. He defeated Hugo Motta, who was backed by fellow party member and lower house chief Eduardo Cunha, one of the president’s most outspoken critics and a protagonist in the impeachment process.
Picciani reiterated his opposition to Rousseff’s ouster after Wednesday’s vote. He said Brazilians know she committed no crime, which “makes impeachment lose strength.”
While the PMDB forms part of the government’s coalition and runs key ministries such as health, a growing number of its members have expressed dissatisfaction with Rousseff’s administration in the past year. Lawmakers in the party orchestrated some of the president’s biggest legislative defeats in 2015, while Cunha used his role as house speaker to accept a request to start impeachment
The PMDB leader could tilt the party’s balance in key committees, including one that will recommend whether the lower house should support impeachment and allow the Senate to start hearings. Rousseff also will need the party’s backing to win approval for her economic agenda this year, which is designed to shrink a record budget deficit and revive investor
Picciani may be able to help speed up government proposals in the lower house, but doesn’t have the power to turn PMDB legislators in Rousseff’s favor, said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Tendencias Consultoria Integrada.
The administration was so concerned with the result of Wednesday’s vote that its Health Minister Marcelo Castro temporarily stepped down to resume his post as legislator so he could cast a ballot.
Impeachment has lost momentum since Cunha accepted the request against Rousseff in early December, as lawmakers took a more than five-week year-end recess and supporters of the government contested the process before the Supreme Court. Cunha says he is waiting for a decision from the top court before he will allow proceedings to continue.
Even without impeachment, Rousseff’s political survival faces a series of challenges such as a deepening recession, a corruption scandal that is encroaching on her party and a probe into allegations she financed her 2014 presidential campaign with kickbacks from state-run oil company Petrobras. She denies wrongdoing, and likens efforts to oust her to a coup.
“The bigger conclusion from this week’s vote, however, is that the fate of the president remains very much in play,” analysts at political consulting firm Eurasia Group wrote in a research note about the PMDB decision on Wednesday.