President Michel Temer accused of corruption by Brazil’s top prosecutor

Michel Temer’s presidency is crashing down around him. After a brief reprieve by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal who acquitted the president of abuse of power charges relating to the 2014 presidential election, President Temer is once again accused of wrongdoing.

Brazil’s top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, formally accused President Temer of taking bribes from Joesley Batista, the owner of the Brazilian meatpacking company JBS. According to Janot, President Temer received a bribe from JBS through a former aide, Rodrigo Loures, who was filmed by the police taking a $152,000 cash bribe.

The decision now falls to the Chamber of Deputies, which would have to vote two-thirds in favor of suspending President Temer for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court. As the Economist noted, it does not appear likely that the Chamber of Deputies would vote against Temer by the necessary margin since his power bloc still retains control of the Chamber.

However, President Temer cannot rely on a friendly Congress for long. A recent poll by Datafolha shows only 7 percent support for the embattled president. Furthermore, each accusation by Janot must be addressed by the National Congress. While the Chamber of Deputies may not vote to suspend the President because of the current corruption charges, they will not have the political capital to repeatedly defend an increasingly toxic and unpopular president through the next election.

What if Temer is removed from office or resigns?

Since the office of vice president has remained vacant since Michel Temer ascended to the presidency, the next in the line of presidential succession is the President of the Chamber of Deputies. The current President of the Chamber is Rodrigo Maia, a political ally of Michel Temer.

Rodrigo Maia is a long serving member of the Chamber of Deputies and founding member of the Democratas party, a center-right conservative political party that promotes free-market economic policies. He was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies in July 2016 after his predecessor, Eduardo Cunha, was removed from office because of corruption charges. Cunha was arrested in October 2016 on multiple charges. In March 2017, he was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.

If the Chamber of Deputies votes to suspend Michel Temer and allow him to be tried before the Supreme Court on corruption charges, Maia would become acting president for up to 180 days during the trial.

If President Temer resigns or is removed from office by the Senate, Rodrigo Maia would become acting President. If that occurs, article 81 of the Brazilian Constitution stipulates that new presidential elections would be held in 90 days after Temer is removed. The winner of that election would serve out the remainder of Michel Temer’s term, which ends on January 1, 2019.

Given the increasing speed and severity of accusations against President Temer, it seems unlikely that he can remain in office for another year and a half. Currently, several prominent people are in a position to run for President should elections be held early.

Datafolha recently published polling data showing significant support for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula was president from 2003 to 2010. His presidency is most remembered for high social spending and economic growth, which was driven by high commodity prices. Lula remains popular despite allegations of corruption.

The Car Wash scandal that began in 2014 and helped to take down former President Dilma Rousseff continues to rock Brazil. The magnitude and scope of corruption uncovered now extend far beyond the original investigation into PETROBRAS to include major companies such as  Odebrecht, the multinational construction conglomerate, and JBS.

The corruption scandals have contributed to the severe economic depression that Brazil remains in. However, while painful in the short term, the work done by the federal prosecutors presents the greatest opportunity in Brazil’s history to root out major corruption and start a shift in Brazil’s culture of impunity.

It is clear that politicians accused of corruption cannot remain in power. For the sake of the country, their crimes cannot go unpunished. Michel Temer unequivocally falls in that category.

The question going forward is not will Temer complete his term but rather when will and how will he leave the office of president.

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