Brazil congress to vote on whether to remove president

Brazil’s President Michel Temer denies allegations he accepted bribes as he faces a battle for his political survival.

Brazil Michel Temer
If two-thirds of legislators in Brazil's Lower House vote in favour of his removal, Temer would be suspended for six months and face trial at the Supreme Court [Evaristo Sa/AFP]

Brazil’s President Michel Temer faces a potential vote on Wednesday by the National Congress that could remove him for corruption, the latest in the battle for his political survival that began when bribery allegations against him surfaced in May.

If Temer fails to capture the votes he needs to remain in the presidency, he would be suspended for six months and face trial at the Supreme Court where he could be removed permanently.

Brazil’s top prosecutor has accused the president of receiving a 500,000 Brazilian real ($160,000) bribe from meatpacking giant J&F, allegedly collected by close a Temer aide and former congressman, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who was filmed by Federal Police collecting a suitcase with the money inside.

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot alleges the money was destined for Temer, the first instalment of 38 million Brazilian reals ($12.1m) of bribes to be paid over a period of nine months by former J&F chief executive Joesley Batista to help with his business dealings. The president has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

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The Temer vote is scheduled to begin on August 2 but could be delayed. A minimum quorum of 342 congressmen is needed for the vote to begin and a large number of legislators have still not registered their intention to vote.

Temer can only be removed if two-thirds of legislators in Brazil‘s Lower House vote in favour of his removal.

Analysts say that this is unlikely as Temer still has strong support from allies in Congress which is largely made up of conservative legislators.

“There won’t be enough votes to defeat Temer, there is no doubt about that,” said Fernando Abrucio, a political scientist at the Sao Paulo branch of the Fundacao Getulio Vargas University and think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

‘Car Wash’ corruption case

Dozens of Brazilian congressmen are also under investigation in the wide reaching “Car Wash” corruption investigation.

Celso Barros, a political scientist and columnist with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, told Al Jazeera that many legislators are hoping for some kind amnesty from the investigation. Legislators tried on two occasions to pass amnesties, but were blocked.

“Temer is seen as an ally of these efforts,” he said.

Analysts say legislators seeking re-election may not want to be associated with voting for Temer’s unpopular administration and that members of Brazil’s opposition, knowing they will not win the vote, may not turn up in order to prolong Temer’s suffering.

In the run-up to the vote, Temer has been holding a hectic schedule of meetings with legislators and ministers to shore up support.

According to watchdog group Contas Abertas, Temer has issued 4.2 billion Brazilian reals ($1.34bn) of government funds since June that congressmen will be able to spend as they choose in their elected districts on small infrastructure projects such as health clinics, paving roads or sports centres – projects that get votes – compare with just over 100 million Brazilian reals ($32m) since the start of the year.

“The president is trying to influence the votes of the congressmen,” said Gil Castello Branco, founder of Contas Abertas.

‘Our political system is a failure’

If Temer survives the vote, it’s widely understood that Brazil’s chief prosecutor will file new charges for obstruction of justice against him, automatically generating another congressional vote.

A second vote, analysts say, would put significant pressure on congressmen seeking re-election at Brazil’s 2018 national elections.

“The cost for the congressmen for supporting a government with such low popularity and a crisis of legitimacy would be very high,” said Rafael Cortez, a political and economic analyst with Tendencias consultancy in Sao Paulo. “There is a significant risk that Temer may not finish his mandate,” he told Al Jazeera.

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Temer’s approval ratings fell to five percent between March and July, according to the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics.

According to the same agency, 80 percent of voters agree that Temer should face trial and 73 percent of those polled said congressmen that vote to save Temer should not be re-elected.

If Congress votes against Temer, it would make him the second sitting Brazilian president in less than a year to be removed, with Dilma Rousseff impeached in August 2016.

If suspended, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, would step in for a month before indirect elections would be called in Congress. Maia is expected to carry on the economic austerity agenda of Temer.

“One of the reasons for the relative calm in markets during the Temer political crisis is the fact that Rodrigo Maia would continue the same economic policies,” said Cortez.

Temer came to power following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, for whom he served as running mate and vice president and promised a sweeping reform agenda to get Brazil’s flailing finances in check.

Temer initiated a 20-year public spending freeze and then set about overhauling Brazil’s labour code. Next is a planned reform of Brazil’s pension system which would see Brazilians working for longer. Seventy-one percent of Brazilians oppose the reform according to polling agency DataFolha.

Temer has repeatedly said that the reforms are putting Brazil “back on the tracks” and that the country is out of its worst recession in decades when GDP shrank by nearly eight percent in the last three years.

Unemployment remains at a nearly record high of 13 percent however and for most Brazilians recovery seems a long way off.

“Our political system is a failure,” said Marcos Barbosa, 46, a former construction worker, who is now mostly unemployed and has been surviving on odd jobs for the last year and a half.

Brazilians will go to the polls in 2018 to choose a new president but analysts say that the combination of Brazil’s economic and political crises and corruption scandals has had a profoundly negative effect on the perception of country’s democratic institutions.

“It seems that the parties, the elections, do not work, that everyone is the same, everyone is corrupt,” said Celso Barros, the political scientist and columnist with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Source: Al Jazeera