Rift between Rousseff and VP aggravates Brazil political crisis

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer has further distanced himself from the president with a letter of complaints, moving into a position from which his allies say he can make a full break from her troubled government or lead the country outright if she is impeached by Congress.

Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer (L) talks with President Dilma Rousseff during a ceremony to announce the adaptation criteria in the AM and FM broadcasting grants, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In a letter to President Dilma Rousseff, following days of speculation regarding a growing rift between them, Temer grumbled that Rousseff sidelined him from major cabinet decisions and no longer trusted his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), her main ally in the governing coalition.

His letter was published by O Globo newspaper and its contents were confirmed by Temer aides.

The PMDB, an ideologically amorphous party with a history of moving across the political spectrum and aligning itself with power, is divided over impeachment proceedings begun last week against Rousseff, a leftist who first took office in 2011.

The opposition launched the impeachment effort charging that Rousseff used accounting tricks to disguise the cost of economic stimulus measures as she campaigned for re-election last year. A Congressional auditor said the practices broke public finance laws.

The president, who has denied wrongdoing, currently appears to enjoy enough support in Congress to defeat an impeachment vote, a lengthy process expected to last well into next year.

But Temer controls crucial votes of moderates in his party who together could tip the scales against the president, whose popularity has tanked in the midst of a severe recession and a massive corruption scandal involving state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.

Uncertainty over Brazil’s political future has weakened its currency and driven down the Sao Paulo stock market, though it jumped last week when the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, launched the impeachment process.

Midday Wednesday, shares comprising the main index at the São Paulo stock exchange were trading nearly 2 percent lower than Monday’s close.

Temer’s letter followed signs of dwindling support for the president in the PMDB. Last Friday, one of seven PMDB ministers in Rousseff’s cabinet and a close aide to Temer resigned. More PMDB ministers could follow, party officials said.

“The PMDB is moving its players forward, one by one,” said one senior PMDB official who asked not to be named.

“Temer is ready,” he said, confirming the vice president’s readiness to abandon Rousseff outright if she were to be forced from office.

The PMDB last month unveiled a business-friendly economic platform to lay out policies for pulling Brazil out of its deepest recession in more than 25 years. Brazil’s anxious business sector, and even some political rivals from opposition parties, increasingly see Temer as a leader who can restore calm and put Brazil back on a growth path.

Temer’s relations with Rousseff have been practically frozen since he remarked to reporters in August that Brazil needed someone to unite the country, a sign evident to all Brazilians that he was prepared to step up to the plate.


The vice president, a constitutional scholar and lawyer by training, has not commented directly on the impeachment effort. Leaders of Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party see his silence as evidence that Temer is conspiring behind their backs to unseat the president and step into her shoes.

Rousseff’s office declined to comment on Temer’s letter.

In the letter, Temer vented his frustrations. He said he had been little more than window dressing in her first term, was not consulted on economic policy and was sought by Rousseff only to deliver votes in Congress and resolve political crises.

He griped that he had not been invited to attend a Rousseff meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, even though he said he is friends with the American leader.

Temer said Rousseff had no right to distrust him and his party which has provided the support she needed to govern and, particularly, the votes to push fiscal austerity measures through Congress to relieve a fiscal crunch.

“I have kept the PMDB united behind your government,” even though 40 percent of its members wanted to leave break away from the alliance with the Workers’ Party, he wrote in the letter.

“I know, madam, that you do not trust me or the PMDB today, and will not trust us tomorrow.”

Senior party official and aides in Temer’s office deny that he has begun talks with other parties on forming a future government, though Temer himself has said he regularly talks with other parties, including the main opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).

Agreement with the PSDB, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s party, would be vital for a Temer government to pass reforms needed to control a fiscal deficit that is expected to cost Brazil its prized investment grade credit rating next year.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paulo Prada and Frances Kerry