Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Brazil’s Rousseff tries to contain political turmoil

Reuters, BRASILIA

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reached out to political allies on Thursday to stem a growing rebellion within her coalition after the resignation of a fourth minister pushed the government deeper into crisis.

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi resigned on Wednesday following corruption allegations against his aides, ratcheting up tensions within the ruling coalition and adding to a sense of disarray in Rousseff’s eight-month-old government.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), of which Rossi is an influential member, and other coalition allies have been angered by Rousseff’s drive to cut costs, reduce political favors and root out corruption in ministries.

Rossi’s resignation further raised the risk of a damaging showdown between Rousseff and the PMDB, the largest party in her alliance. Coalition parties blocked voting in the Brazilian Congress last week in a protest against the government and could derail Rousseff’s attempt to control spending and pass reforms such as streamlining the tax code to help raise economic growth.

“No government can emerge unscathed from the dismissal of four ministers in eight months. The new ghost haunting [the presidential palace] is named instability,” newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo wrote in an editorial.

Rossi will be replaced by Mendes Ribeiro, a little-known PMDB legislator in the lower house of Congress, the government said.

The political crisis in Brasilia has yet to upset Brazil’s financial markets, which are more focused on fears of a global recession, but comes at a bad time as Brazil’s economy shows signs of slowing after breakneck growth last year.

Rousseff, of the center-left Workers’ Party, faces the tricky task of spurring growth while maintaining fiscal austerity that is crucial to keeping inflation under control.

The 63-year-old career civil servant still enjoys relatively high popular support, in part because many middle-class Brazilians support her drive for cleaner government, but her disapproval rating has doubled since March, signaling that she could lose political capital this year as the weakening economy hits Brazilians in the pocket.

Rousseff, a technocrat whose aloof style has contributed to the souring of coalition ties, will personally reach out to her allies in a bid to ease tensions, a senior source in the president’s office said on Thursday.

Rousseff inherited a booming economy from former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, her charismatic and wildly popular predecessor, and came to power on Jan. 1 with bigger majorities in Congress.

Lula’s near-mythical reputation helped get Rousseff elected, but he also left her with several hangovers from his eight-year rule, including loose public spending, rising inflation and a culture in Brasilia that was more tolerant of corruption.

Jose Dias, a political consultant in Brasilia, said Rousseff had shaken a “wasps’ nest” with the anti-graft drive and appeared to be losing control.

“This corruption sweep is snowballing out of control, it’s extremely dangerous. She’s already lost her legislative agenda and now she risks growing instability,” he said.

PMDB officials did not respond to telephone calls on Thursday.

Rousseff’s transport minister left the government under a cloud of graft accusations last month and the high-profile arrest this month of a group of tourism ministry officials on corruption charges has angered PMDB leaders.

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