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President Dilma Rousseff’s biggest coalition partner, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, on Tuesday abandoned her government, increasing the odds that the leader of Latin America’s largest country will be impeached.
The decision by the party, a loose grouping of regionalist politicians, catapults to the fore of national politics Ms Rousseff’s vice-president and PMDB leader Michel Temer, who will take over the presidency if she is impeached, a process that could start as early as next month.
“The PMDB is the biggest party in the house, it controls the lower house and the senate,” PMDB lawmaker Hugo Motta told the FT after the decision at a meeting in Brasília. “This decision carries a lot of weight in the outcome of the impeachment. Even though the process also depends on other parties, this is a very strong signal.”
Ms Rousseff and her leftist Workers’ party need only one-third of the 513-seat lower house plus one seat to oppose or abstain from an impeachment vote for her to remain in power.
But the withdrawal of the PMDB is expected to be followed by that of other smaller centrist parties in the ruling coalition, which could leave her short of the numbers needed to avert impeachment.
Only 15 months into her second four-year term, Ms Rousseff is being hampered by what is expected to be Brazil’s worst economic downturn in more than a century and a sprawling corruption investigation into state-owned oil company Petrobras.
Mr Temer, who did not participate in Tuesday’s PMDB meeting, has already outlined a market-friendly policy platform that investors hope will revive the economy if he assumes power.
The PMDB also faces serious challenges, however, including the implication of several of its leaders in the Petrobras case, in which politicians are accused of collaborating with company executives and contractors in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.
Mr Temer, a 75-year-old constitutional lawyer, is expected to appoint market-friendly “technicians” to the important economic posts in any eventual government.
However, the leader of the PT in the lower house of congress, Afonso Florence, said the aim of the PMDB was to seize power so that it could protect its members from corruption charges. He said not all of the party’s members had attended Tuesday’s meeting, a sign that some might stick with the government.
“Led by Michel Temer, this attempt at impeachment takes on even more the connotations of a coup,” Mr Florence said.
The impeachment process, which is based on allegations that Ms Rousseff employed accounting tricks to disguise a budget deficit in 2014, the year of her re-election, could start as early as next month if two-thirds of the lower house supports the motion in a vote in a plenary session.
It would then go to the senate for deliberation for up to six months, during which time Ms Rousseff would be suspended from her position and Mr Temer would be acting president.
Led by Michel Temer, this attempt at impeachment takes on even more the connotations of a coup
Most analysts believe that if the lower house supports the motion, the senate will follow suit, placing enormous pressure on Ms Rousseff to resign rather than wait to be forced out.
However, she has repeatedly said she would refuse to renounce her post, describing the impeachment as a coup against a lawfully elected president.
“Why do they ask me to renounce? Because I’m a woman, fragile? I’m not fragile, that’s not what my life has been. Do you know why they want me to resign? To avoid the incredible stigma of removing an elected president in a way that is unjustified, criminal and illegal,” Ms Rousseff said last week.
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