Brazil's President defiant amid bribery allegations

A protester holding up a sign reading "Out Temer! Out with them all!" in Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday. Thousands took to the streets in several cities to protest against the government of President Michel Temer, over allegations he is involved in a c
A protester holding up a sign reading "Out Temer! Out with them all!" in Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday. Thousands took to the streets in several cities to protest against the government of President Michel Temer, over allegations he is involved in a corruption scandal.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Latest political crisis could see Temer go the way of his predecessor, impeached a year ago

BRASILIA • The impeachment of one president was traumatic. The prospect of two back-to-back has spread dread and disbelief across Brazil.

But President Michel Temer has defiantly declared he will not step down, even as federal police raided politicians' homes, helicopters droned over the capital city and markets collapsed on Thursday.

It has been just 12 months since the removal of his predecessor, Ms Dilma Rousseff, on charges that she broke budget laws.

Allegations against Mr Temer could end his tenure too, if what the O Globo newspaper reported on Wednesday is true - that he endorsed the payment of hush money to the imprisoned former Speaker of the Lower House of Congress.

In a terse speech on television on Thursday he was unyielding: "I know what I did," he said. "I know my actions were correct."

Brazilians, long familiar with scandal and upheaval, are not looking forward to more legal proceedings and political wrangling, reminiscent of the tumultuous months preceding Ms Rousseff's impeachment.

As protesters gathered in several cities, the Temer government suffered several more blows, with allies jumping ship or threatening to quit if the allegations proved true.

CLEAR CONSCIENCE

I know what I did. I know my actions were correct.

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER

Mr Temer said the renewed political uncertainty comes just as prospects for Brazil are improving, with inflation under control, signs of economic recovery sprouting and reform Bills advancing in Congress.

"All this immense effort to haul the country out of its worst recession could be in vain, " he said.

Ms Janete Silva, a student protesting outside the presidential palace, was not buying it. "Temer's speech was hypocritical, insecure, authoritarian and arrogant," she said. "It shows that he doesn't care what people think."

The O Globo report said that the Supreme Court had received testimony that Mr Temer approved payment of a bribe to buy the silence of Mr Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker and mastermind of last year's Rousseff impeachment process. On Thursday, the paper's website posted an audiotape purporting to be of Mr Temer discussing the alleged payoff.

The paper said the testimony was submitted by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the meat-packing giant JBS, as part of a plea-bargain deal in an Operation Carwash case. The court is looking into the allegations against Mr Temer and others implicated by the Batistas as part of Carwash, which started three years ago as an investigation into a money-laundering scheme run out of a petrol station in Brasilia before blowing up into a scandal that has tarnished most of Brazil's political establishment.

Resentment has been building for months against Mr Temer, an unelected president - he stepped into the job as Ms Rousseff's vice-president after her impeachment - with single-digit approval ratings, and who many Brazilians associate with shady wheeling and dealing.

Eight of his Cabinet ministers have been forced to resign over allegations of misconduct; three are currently under investigation.

The President is facing another threat: Brazil's top electoral court is assessing whether to annul results of the 2014 elections on grounds of the joint Rousseff-Temer campaign being financed illegally.

In a gritty open-air shopping arcade in Brasilia, some people said they would be better off with a return to a military dictatorship. And Mr Francisco Rodrigues Araujo, 41, a clothes vendor, suggested that Tiririca, a famous circus clown and a federal deputy who ran in 2010 on the slogan, "It can't get any worse!," be installed in the presidency.

"They're all clowns anyway," he said. "Why not put one in charge?"

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'Brazil's President defiant amid bribery allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe