June 29, 2005

Lawmakers from Brazil party to join Lula’s gov’t

By Ricardo Amaral

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - A majority of lawmakers from amain Brazilian political party decided on Wednesday to supportthe government in return for cabinet posts, giving PresidentLuiz Inacio Lula da Silva added clout to deal with a briberyscandal.

The backing by the Brazilian Democratic Party Movement, orPMDB, fell short of the full support Lula had hoped for but itwas still good news for the government after several weeks ofwidening corruption accusations.

"PMDB lawmakers in the national Congress decided by a largemajority to support President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's callfor a governability pact, including the participation of theparty in government and the elaboration of policies," thelawmakers said in a declaration.

The party's head, Michel Temer, and several PMDB stategovernors did not back the pact. But 19 of its 23 senators and52 of its 85 deputies in the lower house signed thedeclaration.

The worst scandal to hit Lula's government since it came topower in January 2003 surfaced this month with accusations thatthe ruling Workers' Party made monthly payments to somelawmakers to secure their support in Congress.

Cabinet chief Jose Dirceu, who denies accusations he knewabout the payments, resigned on June 16. The accusations weremade by lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, the head of a small partyallied to the government, which itself has been accused ofrunning a corruption scheme.

The scandal has made Lula's reelection bid next year lookmore difficult and has caused a complete standstill inCongress, which has become consumed by a series ofinvestigations into the corruption allegations.

Bringing more allies into a coalition government has becomeincreasingly important for Lula since the scandal broke, notjust to attempt to pass economic reforms, but also to ensureenough support to deal with the corruption probes.

The PMDB lawmakers said they would not shirk from theirrole "of guaranteeing institutional stability, maintainingeconomic solidity and contributing to a return to normality inpolitics."

Last week, Lula met PMDB leaders to propose the coalition,including two more cabinet posts for the party, which alreadyholds the communications and social security ministries. Lulais expected to name new ministers by the end of the week.

Still, the fact that the PMDB is split in its relationswith the Lula government is nothing new. Ever since Lula firstcame to power, the PMDB's powerful state governors have beencool on a coalition, knowing that many of them may face rulingWorkers' Party opponents at the 2006 elections.

Chris Garman, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said in a reportthe additional allegiance of PMDB lawmakers may not mean much.

"If in fact the government does give the PMDB one or twoadditional cabinet posts, it would have to be through a directnegotiation with the faction of the party that already has beengiving support to the Lula administration over the past twoyears," Garman said.

"Such an outcome means that a cabinet shuffle will unlikelytranslate into additional support to the Lula administration inCongress."

Former President Jose Sarney, who strongly supports Lula,said the agreement between the PMDB and the government wouldensure a majority.

"The important thing is that we will have a majority inCongress," Sarney said shortly before a meeting with Lula.

(Additional reporting by Tiago Pariz)