Predident Temer's Future in Balance as Brazil Election Court Begins Vote
Brazil's President Michel Temer speaks at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia (REUTERS)
Brasilia: The lead judge looking into corruption during Brazil's 2014 presidential election voted on Friday to strip President Michel Temer of his mandate, but the overall result remained unclear, with six judges yet to weigh in.
Despite Justice Herman Benjamin's vote against Temer, Brazilian analysts expected a narrow acquittal for the scandal-plagued president.
Benjamin, the coordinator of the case at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), laid out a damning portrait of systemic undeclared donations and bribes that he said had fatally undermined the election result in Latin America's biggest country.
"This is enough to invalidate the mandate," he said. The other six judges on the panel were to vote later today after making briefer presentations.
A guilty verdict could mean removing Temer from office and Congress having to pick a new interim president to serve the rest of his term to the end of 2018.
However, Brazilian analysts and media unanimously predicted that a 4-3 majority on the panel will vote to allow the 2014 election to stand, sparing Brazil the trauma of its second emergency change of leadership in just over a year.
Temer was only vice president when re-elected on the ticket of then president Dilma Rousseff in 2014. However, after the leftist leader was impeached by Congress in 2016 for breaking accounting rules, her conservative coalition partner Temer rose to the top.
The TSE has been in final deliberations since Tuesday and even if Temer is acquitted, the trial -- aired live on nationwide television -- has further hurt the already embattled president.
In addition to the election controversy, Temer faces a separate probe into alleged obstruction of justice -- yet another case related to the vast embezzlement and bribery scheme uncovered throughout Brazilian politics by the so- called "Car Wash" operation.
Temer's legal problems, on top of corruption probes opened against a third of his cabinet and many of his congressional allies, come just as Brazil is struggling to exit its worst recession in history.
Temer was taking comfort from the apparent direction the court is taking.
"He is very serene, calm, confident that he has the best legal arguments and will be victorious," a presidential palace source told AFP, asking not to be named.
But whatever the court's verdict, Temer faces an equally serious threat from the probe into alleged obstruction of justice and corruption.
Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot accuses Temer of having agreed to pay hush money to former lower house of Congress speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is in prison for corruption.
Temer says the central piece of evidence -- a secretly made audio recording of a conversation he had with a meatpacking industry tycoon -- was doctored.
Analysts say that if the TSE absolves Temer, Janot could respond by accelerating his legal assault with the filing of formal charges.
That would dramatically ramp up pressure on the unpopular president and his allies in Congress.
The presidency official told AFP that Temer was winning the overall struggle, even if he appears to face one new hurdle after the next.
"Everyone is speculating on the future. Every time he gets past one problem everyone says, 'But the real problem is the next one,'" the source said.
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