Brazilian President Temer claims ‘indisputable’ victory after Congress votes to scrap corruption charge
He received 263 votes out of a possible 513 in a process that saw lawmakers vote one by one
Brazilian lawmakers tossed out a corruption charge against scandal-plagued President Michel Temer on Wednesday, saving the centre-right leader from becoming the country’s second leader in the past 12 months to be forced from office.
Despite bribery allegations, Temer had been expected to survive. But the ease of his victory was a surprise, given Brazil is at the height of its biggest ever anti-graft investigation, which has been dubbed Car Wash.
The lower house of Congress needed a two-thirds majority to authorise a Supreme Court trial, while Temer needed only one third – or 172 deputies – either to support him or to abstain and get the charge shelved.
In the end, he got 263 votes out of a possible 513 in a process that saw lawmakers vote one by one and many making short, often emotional statements live on national television. That was more than half of the entire chamber.
Temer called it “a clear, indisputable” victory.
A deeply unpopular veteran of the ruling centre-right PMDB party, Temer is accused of taking bribes from a meatpacking industry executive. He is the first sitting president to face a criminal charge.
If Congress had authorised the trial and the Supreme Court accepted it, he would have been suspended for 180 days and the speaker of the lower house would have become interim president.
Leftist opponents were hoping the scandal would sink Temer and halt economic austerity reforms that have prompted violent protests, but which Temer says will rescue the economy after a two-year recession.
The left also wanted revenge for his rise to power a year ago, when his allies in Congress ejected leftist president Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial for breaking budget rules. Temer, her vice president in a shaky coalition, immediately took over.
Wednesday’s debate was interrupted repeatedly by yelling and occasional scuffles, illustrating divisions across Brazil.
But the escape does not mean the end of Temer’s problems. Expectations are that top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot could file at least one more criminal charge, including for obstruction of justice, in the coming weeks. Opponents have also vowed to stage new street protest against the economic reforms.
But Temer celebrated his reprieve.
“We are pulling Brazil out of its worst economic crisis in our history,” he said. “I want to complete the biggest transformation ever done in our country.”
Car Wash prosecutors have said that the alleged arrangement between Temer and the meatpacking executive was typical of systemic bribery and embezzlement at the top of Brazilian politics and big business. Scores of lawmakers, eight ministers and former president Lula have all fallen into the Car Wash cross hairs.
What was different this time, however, was that Temer himself was targeted.
In the most damning evidence, a close aide was filmed by police running through Sao Paulo with a suitcase stuffed with the equivalent of US$150,000 in Brazilian reais – money that the prosecutor says was being delivered to Temer.
In a separate investigation, prosecutors cite a secretly recorded late-night meeting between Temer and one of JBS’s owners, Joesley Batista. In the recording, Temer is allegedly heard authorising hush money payments to former senior politician Eduardo Cunha, who was convicted of corruption.
Batista gave prosecutors the recording as part of his cooperation in a plea deal, one of the many that Car Wash investigators have used to build graft cases.
Temer has denied taking bribes and says the secret recording does not include anything incriminating.
Eurasia Group analysts said a big victory on Wednesday would not give Temer a good chance of riding out further charges but also help him negotiate with Congress on passing unpopular cuts to the generous pension system and other reforms.