| BRASILIA, March 12
BRASILIA, March 12 The rift between President
Dilma Rousseff and her main political allies widened on
Wednesday one day after they voted in Congress to look into
bribery allegations leveled at Brazil's state-run oil company
Disgruntled congressmen from coalition parties summoned an
array of Rousseff's cabinet members to appear before various
congressional committees in a new display of discontent.
They also invited Maria das Graças Foster, the chief
executive officer of state-controlled oil producer Petróleo
Brasileiro SA, to answer questions about the
allegations that a Dutch company paid bribes to company
officials to win contracts for floating oil platforms.
The revolt in the ranks of the ruling coalition is led by
Brazil's largest party, the center-right PMDB, which is
jockeying for a bigger role in Rousseff's government and more
funds for its members' districts in an election year.
"The government has neglected the allied parties and their
leaders," said PMDB lawmaker Danilo Forte, who proposed calling
a party convention to decide whether to end the alliance with
Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party (PT).
The rebellion comes at a bad time for Rousseff as she plans
to run for re-election in a scenario complicated by economic
downturn and rising inflation in Latin America's largest nation.
Government and foes were surprised by the extent of
Tuesday's defeat that showed the strength of the disaffected
bloc in Congress. The lower house voted 267-28 to set up a
special committee to monitor investigations by the Netherlands
and Petrobras into the bribery case involving Dutch ship leaser
SBM Offshore NV.
The allegations by the unidentified former SBM employee
suggest that Petrobras officials were paid $139 million in
bribes through an intermediary.
The committee has no power to subpoena witnesses and its
work is not expected to lead to any consequences for the
government. But it can draw attention to a bribery case that
would be fodder for Rousseff's opponents on the campaign trail.
Rousseff chaired the board of Petrobras as minister in the
government of her predecessor and mentor Luis Inacio Lula da
Silva when the bribes were allegedly paid. A scandal could also
hurt then president of Petrobras, José Sérgio Gabrielli, who is
running for governor of the northern state of Bahia this year.
Political analysts say the coalition crisis is of Rousseff's
own making because she dislikes backroom politics and lacks the
charisma and political skills that helped Lula forge today's
Yet Rousseff is a strong favorite to win the Oct. 5 election
and no one believes her allies will break with her.
"They will bleed the government as much as they can, but at
the end of the day they will join forces with Rousseff to avoid
the risk of defeat at the polls," said André Cesar, a political
analyst at Brasilia-based consultancy Prospectiva Consultoria.
PMDB Senator Romero Jucá said Rousseff has overlooked her
government's relations with Congressional allies because, unlike
Lula, she simply does not like speaking to politicians.
"The PMDB-PT alliance will end after these elections. Only
one thing could change that: if Lula runs again in 2018." Jucá
said in an interview.