In a blow to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a group of lawmakers who back the impeachment of the president won an internal election held by the Chamber of Deputies Tuesday to determine the composition of the special committee that will investigate if impeachment proceedings will move forward.
The pro-impeachment group received 272 votes to 199 for the list backing the Rousseff government. Thirty-nine of the 65 members of the committee were elected Tuesday and are said to support impeachment.
The vote did not proceed smoothly, with lawmakers physically scuffling inside the chamber. Lawmakers from the ruling Workers Party were upset that the vote was held by secret ballot and no debate was allowed before the vote.
The result does not bode well for Rousseff. A pro-impeachment commission will likely recommend the Chamber of Deputies back impeachment. The chamber will then vote whether to begin formal impeachment, which requires two-thirds support or 342 votes out of 513.
Should that threshold be met, Rousseff would be forced to temporarily step down while the senate deliberates over impeachment. For the president to be permanently removed, the Senate would also need two-thirds of its members, in this case 54 votes, to vote for her removal.
In the event that impeachment proceedings begin in the senate, Rousseff would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer.
Temer released a controversial letter Tuesday that could signal an impending rupture with Rousseff. In the letter Temer complains about having lost clout.
The vice president's support is seen as critical to preventing impeachment from proceeding beyond the Chamber of Deputies. Temer's party, the PMDB, is divided as to whether to support impeachment.
However, Silvio Costa, a lawmaker from Rousseff's Workers Party, told AFP that he had never heard Temer speak in favor of impeachment.
Supporters of the government maintain that the impeachment proceedings constitute a parliamentary coup aimed at overturning the results of the 2014 presidential election that saw Rousseff reelected.
They further allege that Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the lower house, acted only out of spite. It was only after three lawmakers from Rousseff's party who sit on the Ethics Council said they would vote to remove Cunha from his position that he moved to begin impeachment proceedings.
Brazilian social movements, rural groups, and political parties organized in the Popular Front announced Tuesday a national day of action for Dec.16 to mobilize social movements to reject the impeachment and sway undecided lawmakers toward supporting Workers’ Party President Rousseff.
WATCH: Brazil: Letter from VP Criticizing Rousseff Raises Eyebrows