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Brazil's president scrambles to hold coalition together

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Andrew Burton | Getty Images
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff scrambled on Wednesday to hold together her crumbling ruling coalition by negotiating key government posts with remaining allies, aides said, as key partners discussed abandoning her amid impeachment proceedings.

A day after Rousseff's biggest coalition partner broke away and ordered its six ministers in her Cabinet to resign, another coalition ally - the Progressive Party (PP) - convened a meeting for April 11-12 to decide whether to leave as well.

A presidential aide said the government was reaching out to individual members of allied parties to offer positions that have opened up after the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) bolted on Tuesday.

With the lower house of Congress due to vote in mid-April on whether Rousseff should stand trial in the Senate for allegedly manipulating government accounts to win re-election in 2014, the PMDB's decision on Tuesday to abandon her government was a heavy blow.

Rousseff needs one-third of the 513 votes in the chamber in her favor to halt impeachment, but support for her left-leaning administration has been undermined by Brazil's worst economic recession in decades and its biggest ever corruption scandal at oil company Petrobras.

"The view here is that we can reverse the situation with individual offers," said the aide who requested anonymity. "The government has the machinery of state, but it won't be easy."

In an apparent revolt against the PMDB's withdrawal, Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu said in a message on Twitter that she would stay in the Cabinet as long as Rousseff needed her.

Government sources said the other five PMDB ministers would also stay for the time being, but their positions would be forfeit if Rousseff needed to use the portfolios to shore up support with other parties.

The government brought forward cash transfers to several ministries on Tuesday to fund expenditures and salaries in a move seen by some analysts as an attempt to secure the political support of its remaining allies.

But the strategy might be too little too late.

After a raucous caucus meeting, PP lawmaker Gerónimo Goergen said a majority of his party wants to quit Rousseff's coalition and was not interested in the "leftovers of this government."

The loss of the PP, which has 49 seats in the lower house, would make it all but impossible for Rousseff to muster the 171 votes needed to avoid impeachment.

Announcing the third tranche of a government housing program during a speech in Brasilia, Rousseff blasted the attempt by opposition parties to oust her because of budget irregularities, calling their effort a coup d'etat against democratic rule.

Rousseff's popularity plummeted last year as she embarked on her second term with Brazil sinking deeper into what is likely to be its worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Since then, investigation into a massive corruption scandal at Petrobras has reached into her inner circle and fueled calls for her removal by Congress.

Rousseff's popularity remains close to historic lows, according to a poll on Wednesday. Pollster Ibope said the number of Brazilians who rate Rousseff's Workers' Party government "bad" or "terrible" dipped to 69 percent from a record high of 70 percent in the previous survey in December.

Those who consider it "great" or "good" edged up to 10 percent from a record low of 9 percent, according to the poll commissioned by the National Industry Confederation.

Eight in 10 Brazilians do not trust Rousseff, according to the poll, which did not ask respondents about her impeachment. Other polls show more than two-thirds of those surveyed want to see the leftist leader impeached.

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