Sunday 26 January 2020

Brazil's president confident he can survive bribery charge vote

Michel Temer faces a congressional vote on his future (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Michel Temer faces a congressional vote on his future (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

President Michel Temer appeared likely to survive a key vote in Brazil's Congress on whether to put him on trial over an alleged bribery scheme to line his pockets.

Despite a 5% approval rating in opinion polls and myriad calls for him to resign the last few months, he has been able to maintain most of his governing coalition in the Chamber of Deputies, where he was the presiding officer for many years.

Opposition MPs are hoping at least some of his support will be eroded by members having to publicly back a toxic president on national television.

Major broadcaster Globo plans to transmit Wednesday's proceedings live and all 513 members of the house are up for election next year.

The opposition also believes that if it cannot muster the necessary votes to suspend Mr Temer, it can at least stall a resolution by keeping enough members from entering the chamber so a quorum cannot be reached.

To suspend the president, two-thirds of the 513 members, or 342, would have to vote against him. The government said it had at least 50 more supporters than necessary for Mr Temer to survive.

Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, told reporters late on Tuesday that victory was assured.

The months-long crisis is the latest fallout from a colossal corruption investigation that has led to the jailing of many of the country's elite.

They include Marcelo Odebrecht, the former chief executive of giant construction company Odebrecht, and Eduardo Cunho, the former lower house speaker who is serving a 15-year sentence.

Mr Temer, who was vice president, came to power a little over a year ago when President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later ousted for illegally managing the federal budget.

Ms Rousseff, a member of the left-leaning Workers' Party, accused Mr Temer, from the ideologically barren Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, of being behind the move to force her out.

She said Mr Temer and others wanted her removed in part because she refused to stop the sprawling "Car Wash" corruption investigation. Mr Temer denied that.

Since taking power, Mr Temer's administration has been rocked by one scandal after another while still managing to move unpopular legislation forward, such as loosening labour rules and proposals to cut pension benefits.

The ambitious economic overhaul agenda, supported by the business class in Latin America's largest economy, has helped the 76-year-old Mr Temer stay in office so far despite the uproar over corruption allegations against him.

A recording purportedly made in March emerged in which Mr Temer apparently supported the continued payment of hush money to Cunha, who is believed to have dirt on many politicians.

As part of the probe, it came to light that Mr Temer allegedly orchestrated a bribery scheme in which he would get payouts totalling millions of dollars for helping JBS, a giant meat-packing company, resolve a business issue.

A former aide was arrested while carrying a suitcase with £114,000, much of which was allegedly destined for Mr Temer.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot opened an investigation into Mr Temer for bribery, obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organisation.

He ultimately filed a bribery charge against the president, though at least one of the other charges is expected by the end of August, which would prompt another suspension vote in the Chamber of Deputies.


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