A move by Brazilâ€™s largest party to depart from the ruling coalition further weakened the government and raised the odds that President Dilma Rousseff will lose the impeachment vote.
The latest blow capped a month in which the least popular president in decades faced a wave of massive protests, fought accusations that she tried to obstruct a corruption probe, and at least temporarily lost a battle to install her predecessor and mentor in her cabinet. Rousseff, who was slated to embark to Washington for a nuclear summit this week, cancelled the trip after the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, left her alliance.
It took the party less than 10 minutes to make the decision in a meeting that could prove devastating for the president, as the split could motivate other parties to abandon the government coalition just weeks before Congress votes on impeachment. Leaders of the largest remaining partner in the alliance, the Progressive Party, were scheduled to gather on Wednesday to discuss whether they will follow suit and abandon Rousseff.
“Today was without a doubt a turning point,” said Cristiano Noronha, vice president of political consulting firm Arko Advice. â€œImpeachment will be won or lost after various battles, but the government lost this first big battle, and is now greatly weakened.â€
The PMDBâ€™s decision is the latest twist in a drama that started two years ago with a corruption scandal that has rocked the countryâ€™s political and business community to its core. Federal police have arrested leading corporate executives and politicians, including officials from Rousseffâ€™s Workersâ€™ Party. The detainment of her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in early March led to the biggest anti-government protests on record. Research company Ibope was to publish the results of an opinion poll that will gauge whether Rousseffâ€™s setbacks in recent weeks weighed further on her popularity. Only 9 percent of Brazilians said Rousseffâ€™s administration was good or great in its latest survey, published in December.
“Listening to the clamor of the streets, the PMDB couldnâ€™t have done anything else but leave the government,” said Manoel Junior, a PMDB congressman who sits on a lower house committee that will recommend whether to impeach the president. “The government didnâ€™t get it right on politics and got it wrong on the economy.”
Brazilian stocks on Tuesday extended their biggest monthly rally since 1999 as investors bet that an end to the political crisis is approaching and will bring with it a resolution to the recession. The currency has advanced 9 percent this year against the dollar, making it the biggest gainer among major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Yet the road to Rousseffâ€™s possible ouster is anything but clear, and the president has repeatedly said she wonâ€™t resign. Though she didnâ€™t make any public comments after the PMDBâ€™s announcement, one of her key advisers, Jaques Wagner, told reporters the partyâ€™s split gives the administration a chance to rebuild the government before the impeachment vote. “The timing of the decision was positive,” he said.
The lower house of Congress is expected to vote on impeachment in April. If two-thirds of lawmakers support the presidentâ€™s removal, the process moves to the Senate, which could decide in May whether to end her tenure.
The PMDB on Tuesday told its members to quit any posts they hold in the government, including leadership positions in six ministries. While the administration will offer its remaining allies the posts to secure their loyalty, few will want to bind themselves to a doomed president, said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Brasilia. “The PMDB leaving is a big game changer,” he said. “This makes her impeachment much more likely.”
PMDB President Michel Temer, who is also the countryâ€™s vice president, has the most to gain from Rousseffâ€™s removal from office. He hasnâ€™t publicly opposed the president and didnâ€™t participate in Tuesdayâ€™s meeting. Yet he is, in fact, one of the intellectual authors behind the strategy to split from the government, according to a person briefed on the discussion.
The PMDBâ€™s announcement also has historical significance given the pivotal role the party has played in national politics since Brazilâ€™s return to democracy in 1985. The PMDB since then has held the presidency or played the role of coalition partner, even in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.