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BRAZIL.(“Brazil’s congress decides not to put Michel Temer on trial”)

August 4, 2017



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  1. “Round One to the president

    Brazil’s congress decides not to put Michel Temer on trial

    Aug 5th 2017| SÃO PAULO

    BRAZILIANS care little for Michel Temer, their scandal-plagued president. More than a month after the chief prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, indicted him for accepting bribes, his approval rating stands at 5%. But Mr Temer retains support where it counts most: in congress. On August 2nd lawmakers in the lower house voted not to refer the case against him to the supreme court, which has the power to try him. A vote the other way would probably have led to Mr Temer’s suspension from office. After an uproarious debate, to which anti-Temer deputies brought suitcases stuffed with fake cash, the president won a comfortable victory: 263 deputies voted against referring the case to the supreme court while 227 voted in favour. Mr Temer needed just 172 votes to block the motion.

    But his troubles are not over. Mr Janot is expected to bring at least two more indictments against him, which may be put to a similar vote in the lower house. The more time Mr Temer spends defending himself, the less he will spend promoting his programme of economic reform, which is vital to stabilising the country’s public finances and to sustaining Brazil’s incipient recovery from its worst-ever recession.

    The charge that Mr Temer fought off stemmed from evidence provided by Joesley Batista, a former chairman of JBS, a meatpacking firm, who secretly recorded a conversation with the president in March. This prompted a sting operation by police in which Rodrigo Loures, Mr Temer’s former aide, was filmed receiving 500,000 reais ($159,000) from Mr Batista’s envoy. Mr Janot suspects that the cash, plus 38m reais promised by Mr Batista, was destined for Mr Temer. In return, Mr Janot alleges, the president interceded with Brazil’s antitrust agency on Mr Batista’s behalf. Mr Temer denies all this.

    The president is nothing if not a shrewd political operator. Armed with a spreadsheet listing legislators according to whether they were leaning for or against him, he spent weeks securing support in the lower house. The savvy septuagenarian met with more than 160 of the 513 deputies and freed up 4.2bn reais to spend in legislators’ home areas, according to Contas Abertas, a watchdog. Some legislators backed him enthusiastically. Wladimir Costa, a deputy from the Amazonian state of Pará, tattooed the president’s name on his shoulder. Mr Temer avoided trial by a bigger margin than many analysts had expected. “Those who tried to divide us got it wrong,” he crowed after the vote.

    He will now attempt to shift attention back to his economic agenda. Despite the charges against him, Mr Temer signed into law a controversial labour reform on July 13th. That has raised hopes that he can reform the budget-busting pension system. The real has held its value in the face of Mr Temer’s legal troubles, a sign of confidence.

    But confidence will be hard to maintain as the charges mount up and national elections approach in October 2018. Public opinion may begin to weigh more heavily with politicians facing re-election (Mr Temer is unlikely to run). One survey, taken before the lower house voted on the charges, found that 81% of Brazilians want Mr Temer to face trial. That will make it harder to enact the unpopular pension reform. Mr Temer will try to pass a slimmed-down version, predicts Christopher Garman of Eurasia Group, a risk-analysis firm. Much may depend on how meagre it is.

    Mr Temer may well survive the congressional votes likely to be coming his way. Though angry, Brazilian voters are also weary. The president’s predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached last year in part because of big protests against her. Few Brazilians demonstrate against Mr Temer. Apathy is an ally. “Muddling through until next year’s election remains the likely scenario,” argued Paulo Sotero of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. The chief prosecutor will try to prove him wrong.
    This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print edition under the headline “Round One to the president” ”

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