A new corruption scandal and a top minister’s remark that he is surrounded by “idiots” have added to strains on Brazil’s ruling coalition.
President Dilma Rousseff suspended two aides to Alfredo Nascimento, the Transport Minister, over the weekend.
The weekly news magazine Veja alleged that the two were charging a five per cent kickback fee on projects coming through the ministry.
A statement issued by Ms Rousseff’s office said she “has confidence” in Nascimento and that he was responsible for investigating the problems but the saga could cause more friction within the 10 parties that she relies on to pass legislation.
Nascimento’s Party of the Republic is small, but Rousseff’s relations with bigger parties such as the PMDB have frayed due to disputes over budget cuts and appointments to plum government jobs.
Adding to the feeling of drift and dissension in Rousseff’s six-month-old government, Nelson Jobim. the Defence Minister, lamented before a roomful of legislators last week that he has to tolerate an ever-greater number of “idiots.”
Jobim, a leader of the PMDB party, made the comments at an 80th birthday celebration for former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso – a figurehead of the main opposition party. Jobim served as Cardoso’s justice minister in the 1990s.
Jobim also lauded Cardoso for “never raising his voice toward anyone” and “never creating tension among his advisers” – which many observers interpreted as a direct criticism of Rousseff, who has a reputation for dressing down subordinates in a loud and public fashion.
After a long meeting with Rousseff on Friday, Jobim said his comments were misinterpreted, and that the “idiots” were journalists who disparaged Cardoso’s legacy.
The sour mood in Brasilia, highlighted by the resignation of Rousseff’s chief of staff last month amid a separate scandal, has already paralysed key reforms such as an overhaul of the tax code and efforts to prepare Brazil to host the 2014 World Cup.