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Rousseff Nominee Rejected in Sign of Brazil Coalition Tensions

Brazil’s Senate rejected President Dilma Rousseff’s choice to head the nation’s transport regulator, a sign that tensions with members of her coalition are worsening ahead of local elections.

In a secret ballot yesterday, senators voted 36 to 31 against allowing Bernardo Figueiredo to serve a second term as head of the country’s land transportation agency, known as ANTT. Figueiredo was first appointed by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2008 and is the main official overseeing the government’s plans to build a high-speed train connecting Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Part of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, the country’s biggest political party and main ally of the government, voted against Rousseff’s nominee in a clear sign of “rebellion,” said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Sao Paulo-based Tendencias Consultoria.

“It’s an important and very symbolic defeat,” Cortez said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. “It’s a yellow light. If the government failed to approve something as trivial as this nomination, imagine how the coalition will behave in important votes.”

Rousseff relies on coalition partners to approve legislation in Congress, and the PMDB has five more senators than Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, or PT. While the two parties share power -- Rousseff’s Vice President Michel Temer belongs to the PMDB -- members of the PMDB are upset with the PT for running its own candidates in several municipal elections in October instead of joining forces.

Relations between Rousseff and her coalition first became strained when shortly after taking office in January 2011 she fired several ministers on allegations of corruption. All but one of those seven cabinet officials removed were members of allied parties.

Rousseff is counting on her coalition to keep a lid on spending so that the central bank can continue to lower interest rates. Congress is also debating whether to approve a special World Cup law providing guarantees to FIFA as the host of the 2014 soccer tournament and legislation to boost protection of the Amazon rainforest.

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