Dilma Rousseff seeks allies as Brazil impeachment vote looms

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia.PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Tuesday (April 5) she would not reshuffle her cabinet until after a congressional impeachment vote as she fights for her political survival.

Abandoned by her main coalition partner, Rousseff is racing to secure enough votes in Congress to block the lower house from sending her to face impeachment in the senate.

A long recession and huge corruption scandal have pushed the government to the brink of collapse, exacerbated last week when the powerful PMDB party ditched her for the opposition.

In a country teeming with dozens of political parties, ministerial posts and other government jobs have become key bargaining chips in Rousseff's negotiations to save her presidency.

But the leftist leader said she would not reshuffle her cabinet before the lower house vote, expected in mid-April.

"The (presidential) palace does not plan to carry out any ministerial restructuring before a vote in the Chamber," she told journalists. "We won't touch anything for now." Rousseff's chief of staff had said last week a reshuffle was imminent.

But newspaper O Globo reported that the president's camp was reluctant to move too soon from fear that supposed new allies could betray her and vote to impeach anyway.

Rousseff's critics accuse her of manipulating the government's accounts to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign and hiding the depth of the recession.

Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo lambasted the case against her Monday in final arguments before a congressional committee tasked with recommending whether to impeach.

Cardozo accused the president's opponents of violating the constitution and seeking to exact revenge for their own legal woes in a spiraling graft scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Rousseff, 68, needs at least 172 abstentions or votes against impeachment in the lower house.

The PMDB, a centrist juggernaut that had long been an awkward partner for her Workers' Party (PT), has 69 seats in the lower house and 18 in the 82-member Senate, where a two-thirds vote in an impeachment trial would remove the president from office.

Rousseff has been sending out her scandal-tainted but heavy-hitting predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to lobby on her behalf, courting small centrist parties with promises of ministerial posts vacated by the PMDB.

One such party, the PP - which has 51 seats in the lower house - openly said it wanted heavyweight ministries such as health and education.

"We're seeking recognition of our party's importance in this process," said its congressional leader, Aguinaldo Ribeiro.

Opposition parties have condemned the political horse-trading.

"It's a disgrace," said the congressional leader of the centrist PSDB party, Antonio Imbassahy.

"Lula calls you up on the phone, comes over here and says, 'Do you want a ministry? Do you want a post? How many millions (in federal project funding) do you need?' It's shameful. The country can't sink to this level."

Rousseff's approval rating has plunged to 10 per cent, polls show.

But those working to oust her face serious allegations themselves, including the PMDB's Eduardo Cunha, the house speaker who is leading the impeachment push.

Vice President Michel Temer, who will become president if it succeeds, also faces accusations.

He has been linked to the Petrobras scandal, although he has not been charged. Cunha was charged in the scandal last year with taking millions of dollars in bribes.

A Supreme Court judge on Tuesday ordered Cunha to launch a new impeachment committee to consider allegations against Temer, a day after the house speaker blocked the case.

The accusations against Temer are the same as those against Rousseff: taking out unauthorized government loans to fudge the government's books.

As she awaits the decision on impeachment, Rousseff may also find out this week if the Supreme Court allows Lula to become her chief of staff, which would shield him from prosecution.

He has been barred because of charges in a case connected to the Petrobras scandal.