Brazil's largest political party has ended its alliance with President Dilma Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party, in a move that will bring the embattled leader one step closer to impeachment and removal from office.
The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) said Tuesday that six Cabinet ministers and about 600 federal government employees who belong to the party would resign.
The first sign of PMDB's departure came Monday when Henrique Alves, a PMDB member, resigned as tourism minister. In his resignation letter, Alves expressed regret that "dialogue ... has been exhausted."
Brazil's lower house of Congress is conducting impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, based on accusations that she broke the country's fiscal responsibility laws by altering the government's accounts. In a related move, Brazil's lawyers association filed a request Monday urging lawmakers to charge Rousseff with obstruction of justice involving an investigation of massive corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras.
If impeached, Rousseff would be suspended from office while undergoing trial in the Senate. She would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, leader of the PMDB.
Rousseff is also dealing with Brazil's worst recession in decades and an epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly — a birth defect in which babies have unusually small heads and brains — since October.
The president is also under fire for naming her mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as her chief of staff. Lula has been charged with money laundering and fraud as part of the investigation into the Petrobras scandal, but if he joins Rousseff's Cabinet, he would not face prosecution except in the Brazilian Supreme Court.
But a federal judge has suspended Lula's appointment, after another judge released audio recordings of Lula's phone conversations indicating that he was seeking help in avoiding prosecution.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on Lula's appointment within days.