BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer said on Tuesday he is not seeking to run for president in 2018, but his PMDB party is keen to launch its own candidate and has released a pro-business economic agenda as its platform.
The PMDB, the largest party in Brazil's ruling coalition, has clashed repeatedly with President Dilma Rousseff and her leftist Worker's Party this year over the handling of the sharpest recession in 25 years, and plans to leave her government before the 2018 campaign.
"Temer for president!" supporters chanted as he arrived at a meeting of his centrist party in Brasilia, where members openly criticized Rousseff and called for an immediate break with her government.
Playing down his own ambitions, Temer said Tuesday's meeting was called to debate an economic program and not the parting of ways with Rousseff's embattled government.
Rousseff has become the most unpopular Brazilian president in a generation and is facing calls for her impeachment even within the ranks of officially allied parties such as the PMDB.
A kickback scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras has also hurt Rousseff, although she has not been implicated - unlike PMDB leaders, including house speaker Eduardo Cunha who is charged with taking a $5 million bribe.
Most political analysts see Temer's PMDB party positioning itself to take over if Rousseff is impeached and preparing to campaign for its own candidates in mayoral elections next year.
The PMDB's economic program criticized Rousseff's excessive intervention in the economy and called for greater concessions to private initiative, even in the tapping of Brazil's huge offshore oil reserves.
The program proposes to keep public spending growing less than the overall economy, ending mandatory spending on health and education and eliminating the indexing of pensions and other payments to control Brazil's widening fiscal deficit.
Party leaders tried to focus Tuesday's meeting on economic policy instead of relations with the Rousseff government.
Eliseu Padilha, one of seven PMDB ministers in Rousseff's Cabinet, said the party will have to break with the government when it launches its own candidate. That could be decided at a party convention in March, he told Reuters.
"Then we would have to have an eye-to-eye discussion with President Rousseff and the Workers' Party," he said. "But, for now, a majority of the party wants to continue helping Brazil by helping this government."
Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis