A wave of scandals buffeting Brazil's interim government is weakening the resolve of some senators to oust suspended President Dilma Rousseff, offering the leftist leader hope of surviving an impeachment trial in the upper house.
Soccer-star-turned-Senator Romario shocked the government last week when he announced he was no longer certain to vote in favor of removing Rousseff. Brazil's first female leader was placed on trial by the Senate last month on charges of breaking budget rules.
His announcement followed a flurry of gaffes, policy missteps and scandals that have rocked the three-week-old administration, including the resignation of two ministers after leaked recordings suggested they tried to block a massive anti-graft investigation at state oil company Petrobras before taking office.
The recordings, taped secretly by a defendant in the Petrobras probe who made a plea bargain deal with prosecutors, appeared to support Rousseff's claim that her impeachment was an opposition conspiracy to seize power and avoid prosecution.
A prosecutor's request Tuesday for the arrest of four senior members of Michel Temer's PMDB party for allegedly obstructing the investigation — including the Senate speaker and a former Brazilian president — could sway senators who are reconsidering whether to convict Rousseff and permanently dismiss her.
According to surveys by Brazilian media, up to a dozen of the 55 senators who voted last month to put Rousseff on trial are now undecided.
If just a couple of those change sides, the Temer camp would lose the 54 votes it needs — two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate — to convict Rousseff. She would then be able to serve out her term until 2018, though many in Brasilia think she would be too weak to govern and would have to call early elections.
A Rousseff comeback would likely sink Brazilian financial markets, after they rallied strongly at the start of this year on the prospects of her ouster. It could also leave Latin America's largest country in a prolonged state of political deadlock.
"It's going to be very close. I have not decided," Senator Cristovam Buarque told Reuters. "There are six or seven senators who are undecided and could go either way."
Like Romario, who quit his seat on the impeachment commission on June 1, criticizing the appointment of ministers facing investigation in the Petrobras scandal, Buarque says Temer's bad cabinet choices have made some senators think twice.
"The impeachment has become an election between Rousseff and Temer, who will also be judged on his record in government," Buarque said. "The presidency will be decided by two or three votes."