Brazil's Biggest Party Abandons Rousseff Ahead of Impeachment Vote

Brazil’s Biggest Party Abandons Rousseff
  • Split makes her ouster more likely, David Fleischer says
  • PMDB says members must leave Rousseff cabinent posts

Brazil’s biggest political party has left the governing coalition, delivering a major blow to President Dilma Rousseff just weeks before she faces an impeachment vote in Congress.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as the PMDB, approved the motion Tuesday in Brasilia at a meeting of its national directorate that lasted less than 10 minutes. Senator Romero Juca said party members can no longer hold positions in Rousseff’s government. The PMDB controls six ministries in her administration.

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The loss of a key ally may tip the balance against Rousseff, as it will prompt other parties to follow suit, said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Brasilia. While the administration will offer government posts to secure their loyalty, few will want to bind themselves to a doomed president, he said.

"The PMDB leaving is a big game change," he said. "This makes her impeachment much more likely."

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The real was little changed after the PMDB’s announcement, which was widely expected. The currency has advanced 9 percent this year against the dollar, making it the biggest gainer among major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Brazilian stocks extended their biggest monthly rally since 1999 as investors bet that an end to the political crisis is drawing closer -- even though constitutional rules mean that could still be weeks away.

The PMDB’s decision is the latest twist in a drama that started two years ago with a corruption scandal that has rocked the country’s political and business community to its core. Federal police have arrested leading corporate executives and officials from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. The detainment of her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in early March led to the biggest anti-government protests on record.

"Listening to the clamor of the streets, the PMDB couldn’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 didn’t get it right on politics and got it wrong on the economy."

The road to Rousseff’s possible ouster is anything but clear, and she has pledged not to step down. The lower house is expected to vote on impeachment in mid-April. If lawmakers support the president’s removal, the process moves to the Senate, which could decide in May whether to end her tenure.

PMDB President Michel Temer, who is also the country’s vice president, has the most to gain from impeachment. He hasn’t publicly opposed the president and didn’t participate in Tuesday’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 PMDB’s announcement also has historical significance given the pivotal role the party has played in Brazilian politics since its return to democracy in 1985. The PMDB since then has held the presidency or been a key coalition partner, even in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is a leading rival to Rousseff’s party.

Factions of the PMDB had dissented from her administration in the past year and one of its top members, lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, broke away from the alliance and became a vocal critic of the president. Rousseff labored to keep remaining members of the party in her coalition by offering the PMDB a bigger stake in her government, including control of key ministries such as health and aviation.

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