Brazilian President struggling to stay in power

A Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo protest against taxes at the Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasilia on Tuesday. The inscription on the giant ducks reads "Enough of taking the blame".
A Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo protest against taxes at the Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasilia on Tuesday. The inscription on the giant ducks reads "Enough of taking the blame".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRASILIA • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was left scrambling for votes to save her presidency in a looming impeachment showdown after her main coalition partner walked out of the government.

The PMDB, the country's largest party, voted to immediately end its alliance with Ms Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party, or PT, and go into opposition.

"From today, at this historic meeting of the PMDB, the PMDB withdraws from the government of President Rousseff," said Senator Romero Juca, the party's vice-president, on Tuesday.

The meeting, broadcast live on national television, was the culmination of a long divorce with Ms Rousseff, leaving Brazil's first female president grasping at straws as she tries to stay in power.

The vote and announcement took no more than three minutes and were accompanied by singing of the national anthem and shouts of "PT out!"

The split plunges Ms Rousseff's government into fresh crisis mode and, more seriously, greatly reduces her chances of mustering the one-third of votes in the Lower House of Congress that she needs to defeat a first impeachment vote, expected next month.

Ms Rousseff cancelled a trip to Washington for a nuclear safety summit today and tomorrow, the state news agency said. A government spokesman said that in "the current political context", it was not advisable.

If the Lower House votes in favour, an impeachment trial would start in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote would force Ms Rousseff from office.

PMDB head Michel Temer - who remains Vice-President under Ms Rousseff despite the break-up - would take over as interim president.

The impeachment case alleges that Ms Rousseff illegally borrowed money to boost public spending and mask the severity of the recession from voters during her re-election.

The Brazilian Bar Association filed a new impeachment petition on Monday, seeking to expand the accusations to include allegations of involvement by Ms Rousseff in a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal centred on state oil company Petrobras.

Mr Eliseu Padilha, a high-ranking PMDB member who served as minister of civil aviation in Ms Rous- seff's government, predicted that Ms Rousseff had only weeks left.

"In less than three months, we'll have a new government - in two months," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Brazilian President struggling to stay in power'. Print Edition | Subscribe