Brazilian government loses largest party

Brazilian government loses largest party

Brazil's largest party has announced it is leaving President Dilma Rousseff's governing coalition and pulling its members from her government, a departure that sharply raises the odds she could be impeached in a matter of months.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) took just a few minutes on Tuesday (local time) to decide unanimously in a packed leadership meeting that its six ministers in Rousseff's cabinet and all other party members with government appointments must resign immediately.

Under Brazil's presidential system, Rousseff will remain in office but the break cripples her fight against impeachment proceedings in congress, which could put Vice President Michel Temer, leader of the PMDB, in the presidential seat.

Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and called the impeachment efforts a coup to oust her ruling Workers' Party (PT).

The opposition is pressing to impeach her for allegedly breaking budget laws to boost spending in the run-up to her 2014 re-election.

Their efforts gained steam as more than a million Brazilians took to the streets this month to protest at the worst recession in decades and a vast corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras that has reached the president's inner circle.

The loss of Rousseff's main coalition partner may prompt smaller parties to abandon the government, leaving Brazil's first female president increasingly isolated as the impeachment process nears a vote in the lower house, expected in mid-April.

Rousseff's struggles are just a part of a broad crisis in Brazil.

Brazil's economy shrank 3.8 percent last year and is on track for the worst two-year recession in more than a century, according to economists. The government is also grappling with an epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus as it scrambles to prepare for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Rousseff will seek new coalition allies and form a new government by the end of the week, her chief of staff Jaques Wagner told reporters.

Rousseff cancelled a trip to a nuclear security summit in Washington because of the deepening political crisis, two government officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

She requires the backing of 171 members of congress -- or one-third of the lower house - to block impeachment. The loss of the PMDB's 68 votes means the PT -- which has 58 members - must rely heavily on its smaller coalition partners.

Including allies such as the Progressive Party (PP), the Republican Party (PR) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the government believes it can muster 180 votes.

However, the PP will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to withdraw from the governing coalition.