By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer said on Tuesday he is not seeking to run for president in 2018, though 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 worst recession since the 1930s, 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 the party would only pick a candidate in 2018 and that 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 from within the ranks of her official ally the PMDB, where a growing number of members want to split.
Most political analysts see Temer's PMDB party gradually positioning itself to take over if Rousseff is impeached and preparing to campaign for its own candidates in local elections next year for governors and mayors.
The PMDB's economic program criticized Rousseff's excessive intervention in the economy and calls for greater concessions to private initiative, even in the tapping of Brazil's huge offshore oil reserves.
The program titled "A bridge to the future" proposes a limit to public spending to below economic growth, ending mandatory spending in areas such as health and education and eliminating 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 does launch 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 that we are allied to," 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)