By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's top electoral court must consider the country's plight when deciding a case accusing President Michel Temer of illegal campaign funding, an incoming justice said, suggesting the tribunal should avoid pitching the nation deeper into crisis.
Admar Gonzaga, picked by Temer to join the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) later this month, said the court must weigh Brazil's difficult economic and political situation, not just the facts of the case involving the alleged use of graft money in the 2014 election.
"The TSE has a political responsibility ... We have to base our ruling on our vision of the political environment," Gonzaga told Reuters late on Wednesday.
He alluded to the fact that all major parties in the South American country stand accused of accepting bribes and illegal funds at the time of the election.
"The whole political scene was contaminated," Gonzaga said, declining to indicate how he might vote in the case.
While Gonzaga will be just one voice on the seven-seat tribunal, his arrival on April 16 suggests the balance is swinging in Temer's favor.
The president can appoint another justice next month to fill a second vacancy, and can already expect a favorable hearing from TSE President Gilmar Mendes, who is close to a party in Temer's coalition. That would put Temer just one vote shy of a potential victory that lifts the legal cloud over his administration.
Temer, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff last year, is struggling to lift Latin America's largest economy out of a two-year recession, with business confidence reeling from the massive corruption scandal convulsing the political class.
If the TSE decides that Rousseff and Temer, her running mate, used illegal money to fund their victorious campaign, it could annul the election result and force Temer from office. Congress would then have 30 days to elect a successor, deepening the political turmoil.
In an interview with Reuters last month, TSE President Mendes defended Temer's request to have his campaign accounts separated from Rousseff's by the court so he could avoid a ban on holding political office.
Temer called on Thursday for the TSE to reach a quick verdict to remove uncertainty over his government as it presses ahead with a key reform to tackle the pension deficit, which faces resistance in Congress and on the streets.
Gonzaga, a lawyer by training, said the tribunal should press ahead quickly to reach a verdict by August at the latest. By law, electoral justice cases should not take more than a year and this one was 2-1/2 years old, he said.
"If we stay at this pace, the trial will become endless," he said.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Brown)