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Brazil’s Temer wins time in corruption crisis

Update: May, 22/2017 - 11:00
Brazil’s President Michel Temer has denied any wrongdoing. — AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

BRASÍLIA  Brazil’s embattled President Michel Temer won a small reprieve on Sunday when a key coalition partner delayed a decision on whether to abandon him over an explosive corruption scandal.

Nationwide street protests called by leftist groups also had only a modest impact, with no more than a few hundred people in each major city, further easing the sense of intense crisis for the centre-right president.

Temer has been fighting for his political life since being placed under investigation for allegedly obstructing a corruption probe by paying hush money to the jailed former speaker of the house, Eduardo Cunha. Temer is also accused of taking millions of reais in bribes.

On Sunday the key ally to his centre-right PMDB party, the PSDB social democrats, had been set to decide whether to withdraw - potentially dealing the government of Latin America’s biggest country a death blow.

However, the session was cancelled with no explanation.

Instead, Temer met with ministers and legislators at the presidential residency, a spokesman for Temer said. Earlier plans to host a dinner for the allies were dropped due to lower than hoped for attendance, Folha newspaper reported in an indication of Temer’s struggle to retain loyalty.

Despite growing demands for his resignation or impeachment, Temer argues that he is needed to keep steering economic reforms aimed at pulling Brazil out of a deep recession.

He has asked the Supreme Court to suspend the investigation into his alleged crimes, arguing that the main evidence - a secretly recorded audio - had been doctored. The court is due to examine this on Wednesday.

"He has won a bit of time," said Gesner Oliveira, a professor at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro.

Court showdown

Clearly Temer, who took over only a year ago after the impeachment of leftist president Dilma Rousseff, is teetering. Even in a country awash in corruption scandals the allegations against the veteran politician have been stunning.

Brazil’s bar association, the Order of Brazilian Lawyers, voted overwhelmingly late on Saturday to lodge an impeachment request with Congress, adding to at least eight already filed. The association was also influential in the impeachment of Rousseff last year.

However, while Temer can fight his corruption case in court, he will be doomed if he loses his support in Congress.

Brasilia is buzzing with speculation over whether the parties in his ruling coalition will decide to jump from a sinking ship or instead rally around Temer.

The PSB socialist party, with one minister in the government, already quit on Saturday.

But the crucial PSDB has sent mixed signals, with some leaders calling for withdrawal and others urging calm so that economic reforms can go ahead. The PSDB has four ministers, and with 47 lower house deputies and 10 senators it represents an important voting bloc both for approving reforms - and, if comes to that, for deciding on impeachment.

The tipping point could come as early as Wednesday.

If the Supreme Court agrees to suspend the probe against Temer, he will have a much better chance of rebuilding his alliance, analysts say. If the court rules that the probe continue as planned, mass desertion could follow.

If Temer were impeached or decided to step down, Congress would pick a replacement to rule until after scheduled 2018 elections.

Many ordinary Brazilians on both the left and right are calling for an amendment to the law to allow a snap popular election.

’Car Wash’

Temer’s crisis stems from the gigantic corruption investigation know as "Car Wash" that has upended Brazilian politics.

Scores of politicians have been indicted or subjected to probes into alleged bribe-taking and embezzlement, with Temer only the latest and highest-profile to be pulled into the maelstrom.

At the heart of his problems is a conversation he had with an executive from the JBS meat-packing business in which the president allegedly gives his blessing to monthly payments of hush money to Cunha.

Cunha is in prison after a "Car Wash" judge convicted him of bribe-taking, but the powerful insider has long been rumored to be threatening to spill secrets on other politicians.

Temer says he never paid hush money and says the secret recording of his conversation with the executive was misinterpreted, and that the recording itself has been distorted.  AFP

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