A growing number of legislators in Brazil’s largest party see an impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff as an option to pull the country out of its deepening economic and political crisis.
One-third of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party in the lower house is working toward impeachment proceedings within a constitutional framework, said Darcisio Perondi, a deputy leader of the party, known as the PMDB. More legislators from the ruling coalition are now inclined to support impeachment, provided a legal argument is found, said a lawmaker from the alliance who asked not to be named because of the official leadership position he holds.
Only a few weeks ago most ruling coalition legislators skirted the issue of impeachment. The shift in attitude comes after Rousseff’s popularity dipped to a new low and a leading figure in her Workers’ Party was arrested on corruption charges. The government on Thursday was defeated on a spending bill in the lower house, hours after two parties abandoned the coalition and Vice President Michel Temer spoke of a “deepening” crisis.
“The political forces are beginning to see the removal of Dilma as a possible solution to the crisis,” said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director at political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group. “But the smoking gun for this not to look like a coup is still missing.”
One of the most serious threats to Rousseff is the expected ruling by auditors this month on allegations her administration used illegal financial maneuvers in 2014 fiscal accounts. Opposition lawmakers have said that a ruling against the government could provide grounds to oust the president. The administration says the practice was common in past governments.
The president’s office didn’t return e-mails seeking comment on the increased support for impeachment in Congress.
Rousseff will meet Sunday with ministers as well as Vice President Temer and Chief-of-Staff Aloizio Mercadante to discuss strategies to confront the political crisis, according to a government official who requested anonymity because the schedule isn’t public.
At least two-thirds of the lower house is needed to initiate impeachment hearings. The president would then have to temporarily step down until the Senate or Supreme Court makes a final ruling on impeachment.
In an Aug. 4-5 poll by Datafolha, 66 percent of respondents say Congress should open impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Her approval rating fell to 8 percent in the poll, and 71 percent said her presidency has been bad or terrible. The disapproval is higher than the same reading for former President Fernando Collor, the only president in Brazil to be impeached, in 1992.
Residents of cities including Brasilia and Sao Paulo staged protests Thursday evening by banging pots and pans. The demonstration coincided with a televised spot aired by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party that called for unity.
Emboldened by her falling popularity, lawmakers stepped up dissent against Rousseff after returning from a two-week recess on Tuesday. The lower house on Thursday approved by 445 to 16 salary increases for police chiefs, prosecutors and government attorneys.
The bill, which still must pass a second-round vote before going to the Senate, threatens Rousseff’s efforts to contain spending and shrink a widening budget deficit.
Earlier in the house session, leaders of the Brazilian Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party said they would act independently and no longer participate in meetings of the ruling coalition. The parties together have 44 out of 513 seats in the Chamber.
They join lower house President Eduardo Cunha, a member of the PMDB, who declared his opposition to the government last month.
Though serious, the crisis is mainly concentrated in the lower house and hasn’t reached the Senate, a government official said, requesting anonymity. Senators said in a closed meeting Wednesday they would hold off on legislation that threatens to inflate fiscal spending, the official said.
While there is no legal foundation yet to impeach Rousseff, she is becoming increasingly vulnerable, said Mauricio Quintella, leader of the Party of the Republic, which is part of the ruling alliance.
“She’s the second president making that mistake,” he said about Rousseff’s growing political isolation. “The first one fell.”