Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s suffered another blow to her hopes of surviving impeachment three days ahead of a crucial vote in the full Lower House: the second major party withdrew from the ruling coalition.
The Progressive Party said late Tuesday that a majority of its 47 acting federal deputies voted to walk away from Rousseff’s base of support in Congress. The party decided to allow members to vote freely for or against her impeachment as they see fit in the upcoming vote.
The PP holds the third-largest group of lawmakers in Brazil’s fragmented Congress and was seen as key to Rousseff’s strategy to stay in power after she lost the support of the country’s largest party, PMDB, last month.
The decision comes as the lower house gets ready for a crucial vote —as early as Sunday— that will decide whether the impeachment moves to a trial in the Senate, the next potential stage in the proceedings.
The president is accused of using accounting trickery to mask a widening budget gap. She denies the accusations. The lower house will vote on whether the charges are strong enough to start a trial.
To pass the motion, the opposition needs votes from 342 of the 513 federal deputies. As of Tuesday evening, a running tally published online by newspaper Estado de S. Paulo had 302 deputies declaring a vote for impeachment. It is unclear how many PP lawmakers will vote to oust Ms. Rousseff.
Deputy Espiridião Amin, a PP veteran, said the majority will vote for impeachment. But the party’s national chairman, Senator Ciro Nogueira, said while he accepted his peers’ decision, he was against both the withdrawal and against impeachment.
The administration has anticipated it may appeal the lower house’s decision to the Supreme Court should it lose the vote.
The PP said in a statement that its members who hold positions in Rousseff’s cabinet would quit. The PMDB made a similar pledge when it split, but most of its ministers haven’t stepped down yet.
Plum government jobs are seen as an important bargaining chip used by the administration to lure lawmakers into voting against impeachment. Rousseff’s aides say the tactic is meant to fill up positions left by the PMDB when it broke off the coalition, and not just an attempt to buy votes.
Brazil’s vice-president Michel Temer, a PMDB leader, is in line to become president if Dilma Rousseff is ultimately removed from office. But a Supreme Court judge on April 5 ruled that Congress must open impeachment proceedings against Temer based on the same allegations facing Rousseff, which he has denied.