Brazil’s Rousseff faces setbacks in impeachment battle

BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff suffered two setbacks yesterday in 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.

The reversals do not rule out Rousseff’s chances of stopping impeachment proceedings, but they show the Supreme Court and even coalition partners are willing to let the process play out and even strategize for what may follow.

Aviation Minister Eliseu Padilha, an ally of Vice President Michel Temer and part of the fractious party that is Rousseff’s main coalition partner, submitted his resignation yesterday, according to two people familiar with the decision from within the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB. Six PMDB ministers remain in Rousseff’s cabinet, including Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who said his center-right party would back the president on the lower house committee that will rule whether there are grounds to proceed with her impeachment. That could change if Padilha’s departure sets off a PMDB exodus from the Rousseff administration.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s Supreme Court turned back appeals from Rousseff’s allies to block the impeachment proceedings, including one filed by congressmen from her Workers’ Party.

The impeachment process was launched this week against Rousseff by opposition politicians for accounting moves that a congressional auditor said broke public finance laws.

Political wrangling over impeachment is likely to drag on for at least six months at a time when the government faces legislative gridlock, the deepest recession in three decades and an historic corruption scandal.

Rousseff has denied any wrong-doing. In a speech yesterday in Brasília, the capital, she said that the impeachment effort “has no basis” and that she would use all legal means available to combat it.

The aviation ministry declined comment on Padilha’s exit and Rousseff’s office had no immediate reaction to the resignation.

But politicians and analysts saw a deliberate desire by the PMDB, a restive ally even at the best of times, to put further distance between itself and the leftist president, and prepare the ground for the vice president to lead the nation if Rousseff is forced to leave office.

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.

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