- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil, April 17 (UPI) — Hopes for greater congressional support for Brazil's leading party were dashed Thursday when the Democratic Movement Party, PMDB, announced it would not join the ruling coalition.

The decision by PMDB leaders could hinder President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's efforts push through Congress his much-wanted reform efforts.

According to PMDB President and Federal Deputy Michel Temer, the party opted not to become a member of the coalition of the ruling Workers' Party, known as PT, as part of "a grand step toward the reconstruction of the party's identity."

Temer was likely referring to the moderate PMDB's former alliance with the country's last ruling party, the Social Democratic Party led by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

The party now has the greatest number of federal officials among Brazil's numerous political parties, making it a force that can assert its agenda independent of coalitions, which play a vital role in the nation's politicking and policy-making.

"The (party's) autonomy is justified because the PMDB can project its power at the municipal, state and federal level," the deputy added.

Lula's PT has been courting the PMDB for months since his Jan. 1 inauguration, hoping to have the influential moderates join his leftist coalition as he attempts to push numerous reform efforts through Congress.

While the PMDB said it would support Lula's constitutional reform efforts and economic policy, the decision is a frustrating blow for the president who was counting on the party's votes to make his reform agenda more feasible.

Lula — Brazil's first leftist leader in almost 40 years — won a landslide victory in October over Cardoso's handpicked successor on a platform that called for widespread changes, including taxes, social security and public services.

On Wednesday, the president received a big boost from Brazil's governors who agreed to back his social security reform proposal that calls for the taxing of retired civil servants.

Getting Congress's approval, however, for such moves could be in jeopardy now that the PMDB has officially declined to get on board Lula's coalition, which is mostly comprised of smaller parties from the left and a few representatives from the right.

Despite their obvious disappointment with the announcement, presidential officials and PT party leaders said the PMDB desire to remain "autonomous" was well-received during Thursday's meeting involving the respective party leaders.

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