Brazilian president Michel Temer hospitalised

Temer attends a medal-giving ceremony in Brasilia, on Oct 23, 2017.
Temer attends a medal-giving ceremony in Brasilia, on Oct 23, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Michel Temer was hospitalised on Wednesday (Oct 25) with urological problems in the midst of a rowdy congressional debate over whether he should be removed from office and face a corruption trial.

The surprise news, which first leaked out in the Brazilian media before being confirmed, added a note of drama to a day that had been widely seen as likely to go smoothly for Temer.

“President Temer felt discomfort in the late morning,” the presidency’s statement said. “The duty doctor diagnosed a urological obstruction and recommended that he be examined at the Military Hospital.”

Several hours later Temer, 77, remained in hospital, the presidency said.

The first president in the country to face criminal charges while in office, Temer is accused of obstruction of justice and racketeering. He denies any wrongdoing.

The lower house of Congress would have to vote by a two-thirds majority for Temer to stand down for 180 days and the Supreme Court to open a trial. Anything less, and the case will be dropped as long as Temer remains in office.

The debate began with an anti- Temer protest in the chamber and then a walk-out by opposition members to prevent a quorum, meaning that while the debate could continue, no vote could take place.

However, Temer, a canny veteran of Brasilia’s notoriously corrupt political scene, has struck a confident tone, painting himself as needed at the helm of the country’s cautious recovery from a deep recession.

In August, allies in Congress threw out an earlier bribery criminal charge by a heavy margin. They seemed ready to do the same this time.

“The charges against the president have no basis, they are a lie, they are empty, they are fake,” said a congressional deputy, Bonifacio de Andrada, from the PSDB social democratic party, which is allied with Temer’s center-right PMDB.

It was not yet clear what effect the hospitalization episode would have on proceedings.

TEMER'S SWEETENERS

Ironically, what makes it easier for Temer is that many of those judging him in the lower house – 185 of the 513 deputies – are themselves targets of anti-corruption probes.

Critics say the president is also boosting his chances of survival through blatant vote buying, opening up the budgetary purse to give Congress members the projects back in their home states that will help their own causes.

“Despite the damage already suffered by this government, deputies looking for favors can benefit from it,” said Antonio Queiroz, an analyst with DIAP, a congressional watchdog representing trade unions.

Among the sweeteners handed out by Temer are removing Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport from a list of big privatizations and lowering environmental protection fines – a gesture to the powerful agricultural industry lobby.

Opposition deputies acknowledge they do not have the numbers to bring down Temer, despite his huge unpopularity with Brazilians.

However, they hope to obstruct the parliamentary session by preventing a quorum from being formed, delaying any vote clearing Temer.

As for Temer, he has promised to come out of the vote ready to “put Brazil on the rails” after a two-year recession that has seen many investors flee.

Market watchers say the most significant result of Wednesday’s vote will be indications of how many deputies support the president’s bid to cut the generous pension system.

Temer says the reforms are needed to tame a runaway budget, but the proposals are hugely unpopular with Brazilians and Congress has been cagey about whether to support the policies ahead of general elections in 2018.

After taking over the presidency in controversial circumstances following leftist president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment last year, Temer has never had any illusions about his public standing, and he is not going to run for re-election.

He has record low ratings, with only three percent considering his government “good” or “very good,” according to the latest opinion poll in September.