Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff on Friday suffered two setbacks to her fight against impeachment, as a minister from her main coalition ally resigned and the Supreme Court quashed appeals from supporters seeking to stop the impeachment process.
Aviation Minister Eliseu Padilha, an ally of Vice President Michel Temer and part of the fractious party that is Rousseff's main coalition partner, on Friday submitted his resignation, according to two people familiar with the decision from within the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB.
Meanwhile, Brazil's Supreme Court turned back appeals from Rousseff's allies to block the impeachment proceedings.
The process, launched against Rousseff by opposition politicians for accounting tricks that a congressional auditor said broke public finance laws, is expected to mean at least six months of political wrangling at a time when the government is struggling with legislative gridlock, the deepest recession in three decades and a historic corruption scandal.
Although Rousseff's office and the Aviation ministry spokesman declined to comment, analysts interpret the move as a deliberate desire by PMDB, a restive ally even at the best of times, to put further distance between itself and the populist president.
Even before the impeachment proceedings began, many within the party argued that the PMDB should be positioning itself to assume the government, with Temer at the helm, if Rousseff is forced to leave office.
Padilha's departure is a clear indication that Rousseff will fight this battle alone, said Gabriel Petrus, a political analyst at Barral M Jorge, a consultancy in Brasilia. It is also a good indication of the real interest that Temer has in this process: standing as Rousseff's successor.
Temer, for his part, has kept a low profile since proceedings began and in a brief comment published in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper on Friday, he said he hoped the proceedings would pacify Brazil's bitter political landscape.
At the Supreme Court, Justices Celso de Mello and Gilmar Mendes rejected two appeals from lawmakers in the ruling coalition, including one filed by congressmen from Rousseff's Workers' Party. A third appeal, filed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB), was still awaiting a decision, a court spokeswoman said.
The opposition has said Rousseff broke budget laws to safeguard economic stimulus during her re-election campaign last year. The president in office since 2011 denies any wrongdoing.
Rousseff is expected to narrowly survive the proceedings because her party and allies, for now, appear to control enough seats to defeat those who support impeachment.
The government estimated conservatively that it already had firm support from 140 lawmakers in the lower house; it needs 172 votes to block the process. Newspaper O Globo, based on estimates from party leaders, said on Friday Rousseff could have up to 258 lawmakers in her favor if the vote were held today.
Rousseff wants to speed up a vote on impeachment in the lower house, according to her chief of staff, who favors calling Congress back in the summer recess in January to hold a vote.
An early vote - before Brazilians get back from their summer holiday - would favor Rousseff since the pro-impeachment campaign is only expected to gather support on the streets once Carnival is over in February.
In effect on Friday president Rousseff Friday branded impeachment proceedings a coup and vowed to fight for her political life by every means possible. She said the country could not afford impeachment.
For the health of democracy, we must defend against the coup, the president said. I am going to defend my mandate with all possible means provided to me in our state of law.
No to the coup, shouted aides in support of Rousseff, who spoke during a meeting with public health care workers. Stay Dilma, said placards carried by supporters.
We've got to resolve this, her influential predecessor in the presidency, Lula da Silva, said, calling for the congressional recess that usually runs between December 22 and February 1 to be scrapped.