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Brazil court to decide whether presidential vote was valid

Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 14:34

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Brazilian President Michel Temer already has a world of trouble to deal with and next week a court could in theory annul his presidency altogether.

[BRASÍLIA] Brazilian President Michel Temer already has a world of trouble to deal with and next week a court could in theory annul his presidency altogether.

Mr Temer is widely expected to find a way to escape this. But the mere fact that a court is considering such a thing shows the depths of uncertainty in Latin America's biggest country as it wallows in a huge corruption scandal and a two-year recession.

The issue dates back to 2014 when Mr Temer was vice-president on the winning ticket of leftist Dilma Rousseff's reelection to the presidency.

They are accused - as are swaths of other politicians - of taking undeclared campaign funds from corrupt donors. The Supreme Electoral Court's job is to rule on whether the election was fatally compromised.

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Deliberations will begin on Tuesday and are scheduled to run through the week.

If the court decides to annul the 2014 results, new elections would be organized or the country's highly discredited Congress would pick an interim leader.

Many analysts think the government will succeed in fending off this doomsday decision.

However, the case highlights the dizzying fall of Brazil from its days as an emerging markets powerhouse and increasingly respected international player up until around 2010.

Brazil is still traumatised by last year's impeachment of Rousseff for illegal government accounting practices, bringing Mr Temer, her conservative coalition partner, to power.

Since he took over, Mr Temer has been plagued by rock-bottom approval ratings and a wave of corruption allegations against his allies.

Despite his unpopularity, Mr Temer says he will push through far-reaching austerity reforms to fix the broken budget and serve out the rest of Rousseff's original term until scheduled elections at the end of 2018.

First he has to survive next week.

'CALM'

Many think he will manage.

"There's total calm. The president has time on his side, because there are many legal options," said a government source, who asked not to be named.

Mr Temer's center-right PMDB party and allied parties control Congress and they have the backing of big business. There is little appetite for yet another abrupt change of president just when economic reforms are underway.

One way of kicking the can down the road would be if defence lawyers succeed in asking for more time to answer the case. The court itself may decide it needs more time to study the huge quantity of evidence.

Another option is that the court could decide that Rousseff and Mr Temer did take illegal donations but that the evidence does not support annulling their victory. It is also possible that the court will rule to scrap Rousseff's victory, while finding Mr Temer not guilty and able to carry on.

Even better for Mr Temer, "the court may rule the accusation is unfounded and leave everything as it is. It's entirely feasible because the president (of the court) Gilmar Mendes has worked to bring this about," said law professor Michael Mohallem, at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.

"There are major possibilities that this will happen," he said.

Brazilian media report that the judge overseeing the case, Herman Benjamin, will recommend full sanctions against Rousseff and Mr Temer, with new elections.

However, Mr Temer has another card up his sleeve: He picked a new judge for the court on Friday and will fill another vacancy in May, with a third opening up in September.

AFP

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