Amid cheers of “Dilma out!” and “Brazil forward!” the nation’s largest minority party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), has voted to leave the ruling government coalition, putting President Dilma Rousseff one step closer to impeachment.
In a leadership meeting that lasted an estimated three minutes, the PMDB decided it would no longer agree to government beside the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) of President Rousseff. The vote forces any government appointees to leave their posts under Rousseff or leave the PMDB, potentially facing party ethics violations if they choose to stand with Rousseff.
“From now on, after this historic meeting, the PMDB retires from the base of the government of President Dilma Rousseff,” the party announced. “No one nationwide is authorized to assume any federal appointment in the name of the party.”
Party representatives at the event to vote, most of whom supported the departure from the ruling coalition, were ebullient following the announcement of separation from Rousseff’s party. “Our supporters will have to understand that we are not kidding. This is a serious and definitive decision. Get out of government or out of the party,” PMDB legislator Carlos Marun told reporters following the event.
Moção aprovada. PMDB fora da base do governo, diz Jucá. pic.twitter.com/ikiecCI5eO
— Andréia Sadi (@AndreiaSadi) March 29, 2016
The move affects around 600 government appointees, including six cabinet members who must now choose to step down from their posts or leave the party. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reports that PT officials have expressed a fear of a “herd effect” leading other minority parties to follow suit. As of 2013, Brazil had 32 registered political parties with another 40 applications for parties pending; no party can govern alone.
Shortly before the vote, Rousseff’s minister of tourism, Henrique Alves, resigned, issuing a statement saying he was ending his affiliation with the PT. Explaining, he said, “Dialogue, I lament to say, has been exhausted.” He was widely reported to be seeking an early exit before the rush of departures in his party from the coalition government.
The PMDB formally splitting from the PT leaves the party’s formidable roster of legislators open to vote in favor of impeaching the president, and they have more to gain from impeachment than any other party: PMDB president, Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, would likely succeed Rousseff in the event of her ouster. Temer did not attend the vote to split from the party, a move some suggest was intended to keep from fueling conspiracy theories about his role in the anti-Rousseff movement.
That movement brought 3.4 million Brazilians to the streets of 40 cities earlier this month, demanding resignation or impeachment. A poll released this week found that 82 percent of Brazilians disapprove of Rousseff’s performance as president, up from 70 percent in December. The only silver lining in public opinion polls: only 86 percent of Brazilians disapprove of Rousseff’s policies to reduce unemployment, down from 87 percent.
Rousseff has, nonetheless, accused protesters of attempting a “coup” against her, stating she would “never” resign from the presidency. If reports in major Latin American newspapers are true, some within the Workers’ Party may also be participating in the so-called “coup.” Argentina’s La Nación translated a report Wednesday from the Folha de S. Paulo that multiple sources within the government, who commented to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, had organized a plan to expedite general elections, in the hopes of keeping the PT in power. Those planning the election move attempted to gain the support of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s predecessor, who is described as “not giving it much importance.” The plan never materialized.
Da Silva later benefitted greatly from Rousseff’s remaining in power after Brazil’s federal court found evidence to implicate him in the national scandal known as “Operation Car Wash”: a multi-billion-dollar embezzlement operation running out of Petrobras, the nation’s state-run oil corporation. Soon after evidence surfaced that da Silva may have used Petrobras funds to buy a luxury beach home, Rousseff appointed him her chief of staff, granting him executive immunity from the federal court system.
Shortly after the appointment, Sergio Moro, the judge in charge of the investigation, released wiretapped audio in which Rousseff apparently tells da Silva that plans are in place to make him a cabinet member and grant him immunity, should he need to be protected from law enforcement.
Rousseff condemned the release of the audio as premature in the investigation, and Moro has since apologized, given the dramatic effect the wiretaps have had on Rousseff’s public support. Moro did not back down from the importance of the recordings, however, arguing that da Silva and Rousseff could be found guilty of obstruction of justice for conspiring to protect da Silva. He accuses da Silva, in particular, of “intimidating” and “trying to block” investigators. “Clogging the pipes of justice is legally relevant to the criminal proceedings,” Moro wrote in his apology letter.