Brazil’s president Michel Temer is already fighting a devastating corruption scandal, but this week he faces a more immediate threat: a court ruling on whether he should even be president.
The case in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal or TSE was long considered a slow-burning sideshow to the developments in Brazil’s corruption revelations, which have now reached the top.
The TSE case alleges that the reelection victory in 2014 of president Dilma Rousseff and her then vice president Temer was fatally tainted by illegal campaign funds and other irregularities and therefore should be annulled.
In other words, if the TSE – due to hold four sessions between late Tuesday and Thursday – rules against Rousseff and Temer, his mandate could be ended.
Until recently the trial was seen as somewhat obscure, with a result at worst leading to a conviction of Rousseff while letting off Temer.
However, since Temer became embroiled in an investigation into crimes including his alleged attempt to pay hush money to a corruption witness, pressure has been building on the TSE to take the opportunity to bring Temer down.
“There is strong and very serious proof,” prosecutor Silvana Batini said. Like many others, she suggested that using the TSE to push Temer aside would be the least traumatic way to end the scandal created by the corruption allegations.
That’s because despite calls for his resignation, Temer is vowing to fight on, while an impeachment procedure in Congress would take months to complete.
The TSE is “a possible alternative for a legitimate, calm exit,” Batini said. However others urge caution, saying the TSE cannot be pressured.
“The TSE ruling is not political. It’s a mistake to think that,” said Fernando Schuler, a political analyst at the Institute of Investigation and Education.
“The political system would like it to happen that way, but the (judges) are basically technical and they will react strongly against any kind of interference. It’s not an impeachment.”
Nevertheless, all eyes are now on the court, given that a guilty verdict that included Temer would leave him hanging by the thinnest of threads.
The president would be able to appeal before the TSE itself and before the Supreme Court. However, the TSE would first have to decide whether he was allowed to remain in office during that period – or be suspended immediately.
Should he be definitively removed from office, Brazil’s Congress, which is likewise mired in corruption scandals, would choose an interim president to serve the rest of Temer’s term until the end of 2018.
Temer, a conservative, only took over last year after the leftist Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary rules. Rousseff served as president of Brazil from 2011 until her impeachment and ouster from office on August 31, 2016.
President Temer has proved adept so far at trying to stave off the corruption scandal, which centers on a secret audio recording in which he is heard allegedly blessing a hush money deal.
But when it comes to the STF ruling, his best ally may be one of the judges asking for an adjournment – a frequent occurrence in big trials in Brazil.
But TSE chief justice, Gilmar Mendes, responded to growing chatter about the possibility saying that an adjournment “would not be because the presidency asked for it… The TSE is not the government’s playmate”.