BRASILIA – Speculation is swirling about a potential successor to Brazil’s beleaguered President Michel Temer, who is fighting for his political life amid bribery and obstruction of justice allegations.
A violent protest in Brasilia and an impeachment petition presented to Congress by Brazil’s influential bar association further ratcheted up pressure this week on Temer, who denies the allegations but faces calls for his resignation from both the opposition and members of the ruling coalition.
Temer’s legal woes stem from plea-bargain testimony by Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS’ chairman, Joesley Batista, who provided documents to prosecutors that purportedly show his company had paid bribes to Temer and hundreds of other politicians, including his two immediate predecessors, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in return for political favors.
Batista also handed over secret recordings in which Temer appears to encourage the continued payment of hush money to a former speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who was convicted of graft earlier this year and sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
The documents and recordings were made public last Friday, a day after the Supreme Court launched a formal investigation into Temer.
Under Brazil’s constitution, the president’s resignation or removal would require Congress to choose someone to serve out the balance of the 2015-2019 term of his predecessor, Rousseff, who was ousted from office last year via impeachment for breaking budget laws.
Temer, who had been Rousseff’s vice president, initially took office as a stand-in for his boss and then permanently replaced her after she was convicted in a Senate impeachment trial.
Cunha, one of the most prominent political figures to be ensnared in a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated contracts scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras, spearheaded the effort that led to Rousseff’s impeachment.
Some names being bandied about as possible replacements for Temer include jurist Nelson Jobim, a former defense minister; and current Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, the architect of a proposed pension overhaul that many economists say is necessary to get Brazil’s economic house in order.
Also being mentioned are 85-year-old Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003 as a member of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB); and that party’s current chairman, Tasso Jereissati, a longtime senator.
Congress would be tasked with choosing a successor if Temer quits because the mid-point of Rousseff’s original term has passed, although bills have already been drafted in both houses to move up the date of the next presidential election from 2018 to this year.