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Brazil’s Rousseff faces coalition collapse

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a press conference at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on March 16, 2016.  Rousseff named her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her chief of staff Wednesday, sparing him possible arrest for corruption as she seeks to fend off a damaging crisis. AFP PHOTO/EVARISTO SA / AFP / EVARISTO SA

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a press conference at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on March 16, 2016. Rousseff named her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her chief of staff Wednesday, sparing him possible arrest for corruption as she seeks to fend off a damaging crisis. AFP PHOTO/EVARISTO SA / AFP / EVARISTO SA

Brazil’s governing coalition faced collapse Tuesday as the main partner to Dilma Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party prepared to quit, leaving the embattled president — who also faces impeachment — in dire straits.

Leaders of the PMDB, the country’s largest party, said that a decision to break with the Workers’ Party was almost certain at a meeting later in the day.

“It will be an exit meeting, a goodbye to the government. We calculate we have a vote of more than 80 percent in favor of quitting,” said PMDB lawmaker Osmar Terra.

“There has been a series of dominoes falling, and it cannot be turned back,” he said.

Rousseff, who is fighting recession, street protests, a mammoth corruption scandal, and the push in Congress for her impeachment, met PMDB ministers Monday to try to convince them to stay.

But a spokesman for party leader Michel Temer — who as Rousseff’s vice president will become interim president if she is impeached — told AFP that the only hold-up to an exit was a final decision on how long to give PMDB cabinet members to leave their posts.

Already on Monday, Tourism Minister Henrique Alves resigned, saying time had “run out” on the president.

– Impeachment votes –
The PMDB, the mostly centrist and largest party in Brazil, has long been an awkward partner for Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). But its votes in Congress, where it has 69 of the 513 lower house seats, are important to Rousseff, who needs one third of the lower house to avoid impeachment.

Rousseff also fears that the PMDB’s exit will encourage other coalition partners to jump ship.

Lawmakers from both the center-right Progressive Party (PP), which has 49 deputies, and the center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD), which has 32, said their parties would meet this week on a possible split.

Rousseff faces impeachment on charges that she illegally borrowed money to boost public spending and mask the severity of the recession. A congressional committee is currently tasked with making a recommendation to the full lower house, which would then vote.

The Brazilian bar association filed a new impeachment petition Monday, seeking to expand the accusations to include allegations of involvement by Rousseff in the multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Angry protests erupted in Congress as lawyers filed the papers.

“Putschists!” shouted Rousseff supporters, while the lawyers sang the national anthem in response.

– Desperately seeking allies –
Although technically still vice president, Temer, 75, increasingly resembles a politician preparing for power. He met Monday with opposition leader Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost the 2014 election to Rousseff.

The growing instability has spilled onto the streets with millions of Brazilians marching against Rousseff and smaller, but still vigorous, rallies held in her defense.

Rousseff called on her mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to become chief of staff so that he could stiffen resolve in the ranks and put his negotiating skills to use.

But the move prompted a swift backlash from opponents who see the appointment as a bid to give Lula ministerial immunity and protect him from corruption allegations related to the Petrobras probe.

The judge leading the probe controversially released a wire-tapped phone conversation between Rousseff and Lula that was interpreted as showing her giving him the post in order to shield him. Lula has forcefully denied this and the wording of the conversation is ambiguous.

The full Supreme Court is expected to issue a definitive ruling on whether Lula can take up his appointment in the coming days.

The end game in this shifting of alliances is the impeachment battle, where opponents must reach two-thirds of the lower house vote — 342 deputies — to open a full trial in the Senate.

In the Senate, another two-thirds vote would force her from office.



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