(Reuters) - President Michel Temer’s one-year-old government has been hit broadside by allegations he may have obstructed justice by endorsing the payment of hush money to a defendant in Brazil’s sprawling “Car Wash” corruption investigation.
Temer repeated in a newspaper interview on Monday that he will not resign, but his hold on office has become tenuous.
The following are the threats he faces:
If his coalition allies abandon him, as some have started to do, Temer would no longer have enough support to govern Brazil and pass austerity measures badly needed to bring a gaping budget deficit under control. He would be forced to resign, which could happen as soon as this week.
The speaker of the lower house of Congress, Rodrigo Maia, who is next in line of succession due to the absence of a vice president, would take over until Congress elects a new president within 30 days to lead the country until the end of next year.
Among possible candidates mentioned in an indirect election of a president by Congress are Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, Chief Justice Carmen Lucia Rocha and former Defense Minister Nelson Jobim.
Four leftist opponents of his center-right government have filed requests to open impeachment proceedings against Temer for obstruction of justice. He would need more than one-third of the votes in the lower chamber to block impeachment, which he may not have if his coalition continues to crumble.
An impeachment would take months, as happened last year with the ouster of Dilma Rousseff. In the meantime, the political uncertainty would likely deepen Brazil’s worst recession on record.
On Saturday, the Brazilian Bar Association said it would join the ranks of those filing impeachment motions against Temer in Congress, arguing that the recording, if proven to be accurate, showed a dereliction of presidential duties to uphold the law.
The biggest threat to Temer’s survival could be a ruling by Brazil’s top electoral court, known as the TSE, annulling the results of the 2014 election won by the Rousseff-Temer ticket due to the use of illegal funds in the campaign.
The court will start hearing the case on June 6 and its view is expected to be influenced by the country’s need to resolve the political crisis, which could speed up a decision.
Temer’s lawyers have argued that Rousseff’s campaign managers were responsible for under-the-table payments since he was only the running mate. That line of defense may not convince the judges after the new allegations.
Brazil’s top court opened an investigation last Thursday into possible obstruction of justice by the president. If it indicts Temer, he would have to step down.
The Supreme Court usually takes more than a year to come up with its findings in such probes into wrongdoing by politicians, and Temer would likely survive to the end of the term.
The court is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to suspend the investigation at Temer’s request until it can be determined if the recording was manipulated to implicate him.
Temer’s opponents, led by Rousseff’s Workers Party which was ousted with her impeachment after 13 years in power, are calling for early elections to replace Temer, whom they accuse of conspiring to replace Rousseff when he was her vice president.
Brazil’s presidential system has no provision for calling elections before the end of a four-year presidential term, so this would require a constitutional amendment, a drawn-out process which requires a three-fifths majority in Congress.
That would only happen with massive public support and street demonstrations that Brazil has not seen since 2013.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jeffrey Benkoe