BRASÍLIA — Brazil’s Supreme Court on Thursday sent a corruption charge against President Michel Temer to Congress for it to decide whether the president should be put on trial.
Although just a formality, the handover of the case meant one more step forward in the growing crisis that threatens to bring down Temer just over a year after he took power following his predecessor’s impeachment.
The centre-right leader this week became the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be indicted for a crime.
Prosecutors, who have already uncovered a vast network of bribery and embezzlement in top political and business circles, say Temer took bribes from the JBS meatpacking company. Temer denies the allegation, calling it "fiction."
Next, a lower house committee will take up the case, hearing arguments by Temer’s defence team before voting a recommendation on how to proceed.
The full chamber will then vote on whether to accept the charge. A two thirds majority would be needed to trigger the suspension of Temer for six months and the start of a trial in the Supreme Court.
If that vote fails to carry, Temer would be free to continue his presidency.
Attention will now turn on the committee, whose non-binding vote will demonstrate the political temperature in a legislature where many lawmakers are themselves facing corruption allegations.
Temer’s main argument is that a package of austerity reforms that he has championed is already bringing the economy back to health after a deep two year recession and that lawmakers should focus on finishing the measures, rather than bringing new instability.
But opponents have been gunning for Temer ever since he took over last year after helping to engineer the impeachment of leftist president Dilma Rousseff on what her supporters saw as flimsy, largely technical charges of breaking accounting rules.
Pro-Temer congressional deputy Carlos Marun said the opposition, which needs 342 votes out of 513 to get the trial started, will fail.
"The opposition will not even get 200 votes," he said. "But their aim is to wear down the president, their clear objective is to paralyse the country."
However, Julio Delgado, a deputy from the PSB party, which recently went into opposition, said that lawmakers will be afraid of being seen supporting the unpopular Temer, given that there’s a general election in October 2018.
"Everyone knows that the vote (on Temer’s case) will be public and that the 2018 elections are just around the corner," he said.
Even if Temer survives a vote on the bribery charge, the prosecutor general, Rodrigo Janot, says that two more corruption charges could follow, meaning the crisis could drag on – reducing Temer’s survival chances. — AFP