By PETER PRENGAMAN
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — President Michel Temer appeared to have the upper-hand Wednesday going into a key vote by the lower chamber of Brazil’s Congress on whether to suspend him and put him on trial over an alleged bribery scheme to line his pockets.
Despite a 5 percent approval rating in opinion polls and myriad calls for him to resign the last few months, Temer has been able to maintain most of his governing coalition in the Chamber of Deputies, where he was the presiding officer for many years.
Opposition lawmakers are hoping at least some of his support will be eroded by members having to publicly back a toxic president on national television. Major broadcaster Globo plans to transmit Wednesday’s proceedings live and all 513 members of the house are up for election next year.
The opposition also believes that if it can’t muster the necessary votes to suspend Temer, it can at least stall a resolution by keeping enough members from entering the chamber so a quorum can’t be reached.
“Brazil and the world are watching the absurdity of the negotiations taking place in the middle of the night (at Temer’s residence), the videos, the recordings, the proof of so many crimes,” said Assis Carvalho, a lawmaker in the Workers’ Party, the leading opposition party. “It would be absurd not to authorize the continuity of this process.”
Still, the numbers appeared to be on Temer’s side. To suspend the president, two-thirds of the 513 members, or 342, would have to vote against him. The government said it had at least 50 more supporters than necessary for Temer to survive.
Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally, told reporters late Tuesday that victory was assured.
“This will be resolved by Wednesday afternoon,” Maia said, adding it would be a relief for the country to be able to move on.
The months-long crisis is the latest fallout from a colossal corruption investigation that has led to the jailing of many of the country’s elite, including Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of giant construction company Odebrecht, and Eduardo Cunho, the former lower house speaker who is serving a 15-year sentence.
Temer, who was vice president, came to power a little over a year ago when President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and later ousted for illegally managing the federal budget.
Rousseff, a member of the left-leaning Workers’ Party, accused Temer, from the ideologically barren Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, of being behind her ouster. She said Temer and others wanted her removed in part because she refused to stop the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption investigation. Temer denied that.
Since taking power, Temer’s administration has been rocked by one scandal after another while still managing to move unpopular legislation forward, such as a loosening of labor rules and proposals to trim pension benefits.
The ambitious economic overhaul agenda, supported by the business class in Latin America’s largest economy, has helped the 76-year-old Temer stay in office so far despite the uproar over corruption allegations against him.
A recording purportedly made in March emerged in which Temer apparently supported the continued payment of hush money to Cunha, the powerful former speaker believed to have dirt on many politicians.
As part of the probe, it came to light that Temer allegedly orchestrated a bribery scheme in which he would get payouts totaling millions of dollars for helping JBS, a giant meat-packing company, resolve a business issue. A former aide was arrested while carrying a suitcase with $150,000, much of which was allegedly destined for Temer.
Attorney General Rodrigo Janot opened an investigation into Temer for bribery, obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organization. Janot ultimately filed a bribery charge against the president, though at least one of the other charges is expected by the end of August, which would prompt another suspension vote in the Chamber of Deputies.
Associated Press video journalists Renata Brito and Mario Lobao in Brasilia contributed to this report.