Brazil's largest political party and decisive member of the ruling coalition said on Saturday it will take 30 days to decide whether to break with President Dilma Rousseff as she faces an impeachment battle. Calls within the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB, to ditch the coalition have been growing as Rousseff faces a bruising recession, a spiraling corruption scandal and a probe of alleged electoral violations, as well as possible impeachment.
The huge centrist party is seen as a kingmaker in Brazil, and losing its backing would be a devastating blow for the country's first woman president.
PMDB lawmaker Osmar Terra, one of the leaders of the movement to break with Rousseff and her Workers' Party (PT), said the president has lost control of Latin America's largest country, which is stuck in what may be a record recession even as it prepares to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
The government has made bad decisions. It is sinking. The PMDB cannot sink with it, Terra said. The PT and the government are over.
The decision was taken at the PMDB's national convention in Brasilia, which came ahead of nationwide protests Sunday calling for Rousseff's impeachment. There was vocal hostility to Rousseff at the convention, with many members shouting Down with Dilma! in between speeches.
Party leaders said that during the 30-day period, PMDB members will be barred from accepting positions in Rousseff's administration to prevent her from interfering in the final decision.
Among the issues at stake in the internal debate is whether PMDB lawmakers will be free to decide how to vote if Congress opens impeachment proceedings against the president. The party also re-elected as its leader Vice President Michel Temer, the man who would take over as president if Rousseff is forced out.
Temer sought to downplay the calls for a break, though he also played to the anti-Rousseff crowd. We can't ignore the fact that the country is going through an extremely serious political and economic crisis. But this is not the time to divide Brazilians, he said.
Congress is mulling impeachment over allegations Rousseff fudged the government's accounts to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign and hide the magnitude of the recession racking the once-booming South American giant.
The Supreme Court is due to rule Wednesday on whether impeachment proceedings can go forward. Meanwhile, the Supreme Electoral Court is considering a case that could result in judges invalidating Rousseff's re-election.
Rousseff's woes deepened this week as prosecutors charged her powerful mentor and predecessor, Lula da Silva, with money laundering and requested his arrest in a case linked to a massive corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
The opposition is counting on the shockwave created by the charges against the once wildly popular ex-president to draw huge crowds into the streets for anti-Rousseff protests Sunday.
So far, Rousseff has managed to fight off impeachment, but the opposition is fired up by the case against Lula, who is suspected of accepting a luxury apartment as a bribe from a company accused of taking part in the multibillion-dollar corruption scheme at Petrobras.
Rousseff dug in on Friday, telling her critics there wasn't the slightest possibility she would resign and vehemently defending Lula.
But in a sign of her administration's precarious position, the top two figures in the PMDB, Temer and Senate speaker Renan Calheiros, held talks with the opposition this week to seek a way out of the political crisis.
As I see it, the PMDB knows Brazil is boiling and that it will have to answer to history, said opposition leader Aecio Neves.