Brazil’s Temer to focus on economy amid threat of new charges
Brasília — Brazil President Michel Temer has survived a massive corruption scandal with a victory in the lower house that allows him to cling to power and turn his focus back to the economy.
On Wednesday, Temer allies defeated the motion that would have put him on trial and forced him to step aside, with 263 to 227 votes. The result paves the way for Temer to ride out his term next year and at least temporarily pivot his attention towards economic reforms needed to fix Brazil’s battered public finances.
"It’s urgent [that we] put the country on the path of growth, job creation, modernisation and social justice," Temer told reporters at the presidential palace after the congressional vote. "I won’t rest until December 31 of 2018."
The final voting tally is in line with what many analysts had considered to be an acceptable showing for Temer. The "next battle" is approval of the administration’s flagship pension overhaul, chief of staff Eliseu Padilha told O Estado de S Paulo newspaper on Thursday.
Considered essential by the finance ministry to put Brazil’s rising debt on a more sustainable path, the proposal would need 308 out of the 513 votes in the lower house.
"Temer has problems, but he has a very good agenda," said Rafael Menin Teixeira de Souza, co-CEO of MRV Engenharia, Latin America’s largest home builder by delivered units. "We’re confident that the worst is in the past," he said earlier on Wednesday regarding the state of the economy during an interview with Bloomberg News in New York.
Eurasia Group’s analysts increased their odds on Temer completing his term next year to 70% from 60% before the vote. He is accused of having authorised payments to hush a disgruntled former ally and having taken bribes himself in exchange for granting favours. Temer denies the charges, saying that he was set up and that evidence was doctored.
Temer, who, two months ago, looked like he could be ousted or forced to resign, applied all the political savvy he acquired during half a century in public office to rally support. With his government’s approval rating at only 5%, he personally lobbied more than 160 legislators in recent weeks. On Tuesday, he had lunch with at least 50 deputies from the agriculture caucus, offering to increase the government-mandated use of sugar cane-based ethanol.
The Brazilian real was little changed and futures for the country’s benchmark stock index fell marginally as the final vote tally left doubts over the prospect for reforms. "It is far from clear that this would be a good estimate of how many lawmakers would vote in favour of the social security reform proposed by the government," Credit Suisse analysts led by Nilson Teixeira wrote in a report.
Keeping their distance, yet with an eye on next year’s general election, many legislators — even in his own coalition — tried to distance themselves from the constitutional lawyer who has seen numerous allies go to jail as a result of the three-year anti-corruption wave that has swept the country.
The Brazilian Social Democracy Party, one of the largest in his coalition, allowed its members to vote as they wished but recommended they accept the charges against Temer.
The president may have only a small window of opportunity for meaningful progress. Lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia has said that August may be the last chance to vote on the pension reform.
Also, top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has indicated he may bring new charges against Temer before leaving office in September. This would push the government back to square one, restarting a process in congress that took five weeks and ended with Wednesday’s vote.
"What kind of government can we expect starting tomorrow? Will there be a ministerial shuffle? Will there be reconciliation?" said Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a legislator for the ruling coalition’s DEM party. "There will be more charges against him."