By Brian Winter
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's biggest opposition party has no interest in impeaching President Dilma Rousseff despite recent street demonstrations calling for her ouster, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso told Reuters.
Cardoso, who at 83 remains an influential leader in the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), said removing Rousseff so soon after she was re-elected would be destructive to Brazil's 30-year-old democracy, especially since prosecutors have found no evidence she participated in a corruption scheme at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
"Nobody should want impeachment, it's a very complex thing," said Cardoso, who led Brazil from 1995 to 2002.
He declined to rule out impeachment if new evidence against Rousseff surfaced but said that, for now, those who are calling for it generally "don't know" the damage it would cause or the necessary preconditions.
"You'd need to have a crime and a political consensus in Congress as well as in the street. I don't think that's the situation here," he said, adding that most other PSDB leaders thought the same way.
More than 1 million people took to the streets in dozens of cities on March 15 to protest Rousseff's leftist government.
While the official slogan of the demonstrations was in favor of impeachment, polls and interviews indicated that most protesters were more interested in expressing their general outrage at corruption and Rousseff's handling of the economy.
A recent poll showed Rousseff's popularity at an all-time low, with nearly two thirds describing her government as "bad" or "terrible."
However, Cardoso said Rousseff probably deserved less blame for corruption at Petrobras, as the company is known, than her predecessor and Workers' Party ally Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula ran Brazil from 2003 to 2010 - the period when prosecutors say the graft was most intense - and is said to be planning a comeback in 2018, when Rousseff's term ends.
"If anyone has more political responsibility in this case, it's him, not her," Cardoso said, noting that the former Petrobras executives accused of orchestrating the graft were political appointees made under Lula.
He said rising popular pressure to punish those involved in the scandal would make it difficult or impossible for Rousseff to strike a political or legal deal to minimize the fallout for the dozens of companies allegedly involved in the graft.
"There's not going to be a quick solution to this. It's necessary for justice to prevail. That's what society is demanding," he said.
That means the economy probably won't bottom out until at least late 2015 as companies postpone investments and wait to see if new Finance Minister Joaquim Levy succeeds in pushing austerity measures through Congress, he said.
Cardoso described Levy, a University of Chicago graduate whose views are much more orthodox than the leftist Rousseff's, as a "competent technocrat who is doing what needs to be done."
He said Levy's lack of political support in Congress, plus low prices for Brazil's commodities and an imminent rise in U.S. interest rates, made him bearish in the short term.
However, having piloted Brazil through a series of economic crises during the 1990s, Cardoso said history showed that the country's natural resources and young population were reasons for long-term hope.
"People aren't investing (right now), except for those who know Brazil," Cardoso said, smiling. "Because they'll say - 'Well, this too will pass, Brazil has potential.' So you'll see people investing at the bottom, thinking of the future."
(Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)