Brazil's Temer seen defeating corruption charges in Congress

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 01, 2017 11:50 PM

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's President Michel Temer is expected to win enough support from lawmakers on Wednesday to survive an unprecedented vote on whether he should stand trial on corruption charges.

The deeply unpopular leader is hoping to put behind him a scandal that paralyzed his administration so that he can focus on passing legislation needed to end a budget crisis and help pull Latin America's largest economy from its worst recession.

The lower house vote will gauge how much political capital Temer still has to block additional charges federal prosecutors are preparing to file against him and to advance a crucial overhaul of Brazil's costly pension system.

His opponents need two-thirds of the votes in the chamber - 342 out of 513 - to approve a charge that Temer took bribes from the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA, and send the case to the Supreme Court, where he could be put on trial.

Even some of his opponents see that as a tall order.

"It is very hard to get 342 votes," said Congressman Rubens Bueno of the Popular Socialist Party, which quit Temer's coalition after a secretly recorded conversation with the owner of JBS plunged the president into a new corruption scandal.

"What matters is how many votes he gets. If Temer does not have a comfortable majority, his government will become unstable," Bueno said by telephone.

Temer has scrambled for support in recent days to avoid becoming the second president to be ousted in a year in a deepening crisis fueled by massive corruption investigations.

Temer needs just 172 votes to block the corruption charge. According to the Brasilia consultancy ARKO, which has surveyed lawmakers, he will get between 257 and 270 votes, enough to avoid trial but with a slim majority to continue governing.

Waning support for Temer would leave him hard-pressed to win approval for the pension reform that is crucial for plugging Brazil's budget deficit. The measure is a constitutional amendment that requires three-fifths of the house votes, or 308.

Temer's hold on office could become precarious if new corruption charges are brought against him. With the 2018 election year approaching, lawmakers will find it harder to back him again later his year.

Brazil's top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, has said he will file at least two more graft-related charges against Temer before he steps down in mid-September.

An official with knowledge of the investigations told Reuters Janot is considering filing the charges of obstruction of justice and criminal organization sooner if lawmakers reject the first corruption charge.

Janot's team could also file the charges together to give them more punch, adding more incriminating evidence against Temer from new plea bargain statements by witnesses, the source said.

Brazil has impeached two presidents, including Temer's leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff, whom he succeeded last year. However, Temer would be the first to face trial for corruption.

(Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassú; Editing by Paul Tait)