BRASILIA – Opposition lawmakers in Brazil on Wednesday tried to delay a vote on whether to suspend President Michel Temer, an acknowledgement that they likely didn’t have enough support to put Temer on trial for a bribery charge.
Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a Temer ally, tried to move toward a vote, but opposition lawmakers submitted petitions to postpone. The wrangling, which included impassioned speeches by many legislators, dragged the session out for hours.
The morning session began with group of about 30 opposition lawmakers staging a small protest inside the chamber. Holding a sign saying, “Out with Temer!” they stood in the center and shouted things like, “Temer should be in prison!”
Temer’s lawyer, Antonio Claudio Mariz de Oliveira, tore into the charge against the president during his opening statement.
He said that a recording secretly made of the president in March was illegal and that a confiscated suitcase of money, allegedly destined for Temer, was a red herring.
“The suitcase of money was returned” by the police to the Temer aide who had been carrying it, said Mariz de Oliveira. “Why was it returned? Because the president is a good man, an innocent man.”
Most of the deputies who spoke were in favor of suspending Temer, while supporters largely kept silent — a fact that kept their backing of the unpopular president off of the national television broadcast of the session.
“The allegations are serious and grave,” said opposition lawmaker Weliton Prado, adding that polls showed that average Brazilians “don’t accept this government.”
Despite a 5 percent approval rating in the latest national poll and myriad calls for him to resign the last few months, Temer has been able to maintain most of his governing coalition in the Chamber of Deputies, where he was the presiding officer for many years.
1. Latest poll puts Michel Temer’s approval rating at 5% FIVE!
2. Globo is masterful with this photo.#Brazil https://t.co/GIrYxONE4U
— aaron bauer (@ABauer_ATR) 27 de julio de 2017
The few who spoke in his favor praised Temer’s stewardship of Latin America’s largest economy, which is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades.
“Brazil is improving,” said Mauro Pereira, a member of Temer’s party. “Inflation is going down, our national reserves are going up. We now have international credibility.”
Many economists, however, say that while inflation has slowed, unemployment has sky-rocketed.
Opposition lawmakers hoped the live Globo network television broadcast would make congressmen wary of publicly supporting Temer. All 513 members of the house are up for election next year. And the procedural fights meant that a decision might not be made until evening, when many Brazilians are at home and presumably watching the news.
The numbers appeared to be on Temer’s side. To suspend the president, 342 members would have to vote against him. The government said it had at least 50 more supporters than necessary for Temer to survive.
The session is the latest fallout from a colossal corruption investigation that has led to the jailing of many of the country’s elite, including Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of giant construction company Odebrecht, and Eduardo Cunho, the former lower house speaker who is serving a 15-year sentence.
Temer, who was vice president, came to power a little over a year ago when President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later ousted for illegally managing the federal budget.
Rousseff, a member of the left-leaning Workers’ Party, accused Temer, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, of being behind her ouster. She said Temer and others wanted her removed in part because she refused to stop the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption investigation. Temer denied that.
Since taking power, Temer’s administration has been rocked by repeated scandals while still managing to move unpopular legislation forward, such as a loosening of labor rules and proposals to trim pension benefits.
The ambitious economic overhaul agenda, supported by the business class in Latin America’s largest economy, has helped the 76-year-old Temer stay in office so far despite the uproar over corruption allegations.
A recording purportedly made in March emerged in which Temer apparently supported the continued payment of hush money to Cunha, the powerful former speaker believed to have dirt on many politicians.
As part of the probe, it came to light that Temer allegedly orchestrated a scheme in which he would get payouts totaling millions of dollars for helping JBS, a giant meat-packing company, resolve a business issue. A former aide was arrested while carrying a suitcase with $150,000, much of which was allegedly destined for Temer.
Attorney General Rodrigo Janot opened an investigation into Temer for bribery, obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organization. Janot ultimately filed a bribery charge against the president, though at least one of the other charges is expected by the end of August, which would prompt another suspension vote in the Chamber of Deputies.