Political Turmoil Heats Up After Brazil Vote and VP Critique

  • Lower house selects committee favored by members of opposition
  • Rousseff's 2nd-in-command complains in letter leaked to press

Brazil’s political turbulence increased as lawmakers approved the opposition’s list of nominees for a committee that will weigh in on impeachment proceedings and Vice President Michel Temer took a personal swipe at his boss.

The lower house of Congress accepted the committee members by 272 to 199 on Tuesday evening in a tumultuous session marred by physical scuffles between lawmakers. The 65-member committee will hear President Dilma Rousseff’s defense and recommend whether the full lower house should allow impeachment hearings to start in the Senate.

While the opposition still doesn’t have the 342 votes required to approve impeachment hearings, it’s getting close and leaving the government little room for error, said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at research company Tendencias.

"This vote was much worse for the government than Temer’s letter," he said.

The vote came hours after the letter was leaked and made front-page news. In it, the famously cautious vice president criticized his boss and said she had relegated him to a ceremonial role for five years.

Michel Temer

Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

“I have always been aware of your complete lack of trust in myself and the PMDB,” he said, referring to the coalition party he presides that will be key in determining whether she has enough votes to avoid impeachment. “I should have vented this a long time ago.”

Rousseff’s press office declined to comment on the letter. Temer’s office said on Twitter that it was private and addressed only to Rousseff.

Ruling Coalition

Temer’s letter is an attempt to distance himself from the embattled president and shows odds are increasing the PMDB will leave the ruling coalition, said Gabriel Petrus, a political analyst at business consulting firm Barral M Jorge. It could also sway some legislators of the PMDB, the largest party in Rousseff’s alliance, to back her impeachment.

"He’s opening the door for a possible break with the government," Petrus said. "He may not be actively promoting impeachment, but this could well heighten the chances of her ouster."

Some members of the PMDB criticized Temer’s actions, including its leader in the lower house of Congress, Leonardo Picciani. The lawmaker said the vice president shouldn’t have stayed on Rousseff’s ticket for a second term if he felt neglected, newspaper Estadao reported. Temer in the letter complained that Rousseff negotiated directly with Picciani about cabinet positions without consulting him first.

Many Brazilians made light of Temer’s missive on social media. The term CartaDoTemer, which means Temer’s letter in English, began trending on Twitter.

Impeachment Process

Temer had remained silent since Congress started the impeachment process, and has met privately with opposition and business leaders. His office said that the vice president wasn’t proposing that the PMDB leave the government.

His party will have eight members in the lower house committee. If the full house approves impeachment and allows hearings to start in the Senate, Rousseff would have to step down and temporarily hand over the reins to Temer. He would remain in power if the Senate impeaches Rousseff or resume the vice presidency if she is absolved.

The government in Tuesday’s vote unsuccessfully pushed for an alternate list of committee members it viewed as more resistant to the idea of her removal. Rousseff’s supporters will appeal the lower house’s decision that allowed lawmakers to cast their votes in private, the PMDB’s Picciani said.

The iShares MSCI Brazil Capped exchange-traded fund gained as much as 1.4 percent after the congressional vote as traders bet impeachment will end the political crisis by either bolstering Rousseff or forcing her from office. The real has appreciated 1.5 percent since the start of the impeachment process on Dec. 2.

In their request to oust the president, lawyers accuse Rousseff of breaking fiscal laws by white-washing budget figures and bypassing Congress to authorize spending. Rousseff aides said the practice was common place in previous governments and does not constitute legal grounds for impeachment.

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