Brazil’s Michel Te­mer: Po­lit­i­cal plot­ter who risks los­ing the game

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Michel Te­mer is the ul­ti­mate po­lit­i­cal king­maker who rose un­ex­pect­edly to take Brazil’s pres­i­dency him­self but now faces a vote by law­mak­ers on whether he should be tried for cor­rup­tion. Known in his long ca­reer as a back­room dealer, the 76-year-old head of the pow­er­ful, op­por­tunis­tic PMDB party has been play­ing the long­est of games. And it’s a game the son of Lebanese im­mi­grants with a fancy for po­etry seemed to have won hand­ily un­til a few months ago.

First came ac­cu­sa­tions of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in May and the open­ing of a probe that could see him stripped of of­fice. Then in June the coun­try’s high­est elec­tion court de­bated on na­tional tele­vi­sion whether bribes and un­de­clared do­na­tions had in­val­i­dated Te­mer’s en­tire man­date. A nar­row not-guilty verdict by the court’s seven judges saved Te­mer from im­me­di­ate disas­ter-but not em­bar­rass­ment. Now, Te­mer stands ac­cused of tak­ing bribes from a meat­pack­ing in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive-part of a wider scan­dal suck­ing in ma­jor politi­cians of every stripe.

If two-thirds of deputies in the lower house of Congress ac­cept the charge, Te­mer will be sus­pended for 180 days and go on trial at the Supreme Court. An­a­lysts say he has enough sup­port to sur­vive the vote. This all sounds fa­mil­iar: a Brazil­ian pres­i­dent fight­ing to keep his or her job. A year ago it was left­ist pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff who was be­ing hounded from of­fice for the rel­a­tively tech­ni­cal crime of break­ing ac­count­ing rules. Te­mer, her con­ser­va­tive vice pres­i­dent in a prickly coali­tion, took over and promised to put Latin Amer­ica’s big­gest coun­try back on track.

That rise to power fits Te­mer’s style per­fectly. Never pop­u­lar or keen on elec­toral pol­i­tics, he orig­i­nally got the vice pres­i­dency thanks to his abil­ity to bring Rouss­eff’s Work­ers’ Party the sup­port of the cen­trist PMDB. Rouss­eff was a for­mer com­mu­nist guer­rilla and Brazil’s first fe­male pres­i­dent, while Te­mer was the epit­ome of Brazil’s deeply es­tab­lished white male elite. The two made an odd fit. When Rouss­eff’s en­e­mies be­gan cir­cling ahead of her 2016 im­peach­ment, Te­mer pub­licly stayed clear.

How­ever, he worked be­hind the scenes against Rouss­eff with his ally in the PMDB, the lower house speaker and con­sum­mate po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor Ed­uardo Cunha. It was Cunha who steered the im­peach­ment pro­ce­dure through in 2016 and Te­mer, ris­ing to the top job with­out hav­ing to go to the polls, who ben­e­fited most. Rouss­eff pub­licly branded the pair coup plot­ters-a harsh claim in a coun­try that en­dured a 1964-85 dic­ta­tor­ship af­ter a mil­i­tary takeover.

Out of touch

Te­mer’s per­sonal side be­came bet­ter known af­ter he as­cended to the pres­i­dency. He had served three times as speaker of the lower house of Congress and been pres­i­dent of the PMDB for 15 years. But to the pub­lic it was per­haps more in­ter­est­ing that he was mar­ried to a for­mer beauty queen, Marcela Tedeschi, four decades his ju­nior. It turned out that Te­mer also en­joyed writ­ing po­etry, even if his verses are a fa­vorite tar­get for mock­ery by lib­er­als on so­cial me­dia net­works. Te­mer, how­ever, seemed hap­pier with his im­age as a dis­tant politi­cian.

Declar­ing he was not look­ing for pop­u­lar­ity, he said would ded­i­cate his in­her­ited man­date-which lasts un­til the end of 2018 — to im­ple­men­ta­tion of painful eco­nomic aus­ter­ity re­forms. Rarely tak­ing part in events where he might en­counter reg­u­lar vot­ers, Te­mer picked a new cab­i­net that looked a lot like him-a col­lec­tion of el­derly, wealthy, white men. The strat­egy worked with Brazil’s business com­mu­nity and a ma­jor­ity in Congress, which be­lieves that aus­ter­ity will help roll back more than a decade of left­ist Work­ers’ Party rule and exit a two-year re­ces­sion.

But among or­di­nary Brazil­ians Te­mer quickly be­came as hated as Rouss­eff, with ap­proval rat­ings into sin­gle dig­its. When­ever he speaks on tele­vi­sion, horn honk­ing and pot bang­ing can be heard in ma­jor cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. He was even booed loudly in the Mara­cana sta­dium when he opened the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

And while por­tray­ing him­self as ded­i­cated to Brazil’s fu­ture, Te­mer fell vic­tim to his own past. The ob­struc­tion of jus­tice al­le­ga­tions cen­ter on the ac­cu­sa­tion that he ap­proved pay­ing hush money to Cunha, who is in prison af­ter be­ing con­victed of cor­rup­tion.

And the elec­tion court case re­volved around al­le­ga­tions that Te­mer and Rouss­eff’s ticket in 2014 was fi­nanced by dirty money. Sim­i­lar cases have been opened by in­ves­ti­ga­tors in so-called oper­a­tion “Car Wash” against scores of other politi­cians, in­clud­ing many close al­lies of Te­mer and a third of his own cab­i­net. For months he seemed to stay above it all. Now he too has been sucked into the “Car Wash” gyre-and his fate rests with law­mak­ers. — AFP

BRASILIA: Deputies from op­po­si­tion par­ties carry a ban­ner that reads in Por­tuguese ‘Te­mer Out!’ dur­ing a key vote by the lower cham­ber of Brazil’s Congress on whether to sus­pend Brazil’s Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer and put him on trial over an al­leged bribery scheme to line his pock­ets, in Brasilia, Brazil. — AP

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