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Brazil's Temer pushes back against threat of losing presidency
[BRASÍLIA] Brazilian President Michel Temer, who pushed back strongly against attempts to bring him down over corruption allegations on Friday, appeared set to win a victory in a court with the power to strip him of his office.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), considering charges that Mr Temer's election in 2014 should be annulled because of the role of corruption money, was deeply split.
After deliberating since Tuesday, the lead judge on the case, Justice Herman Benjamin, voted to sack the scandal-plagued president.
He laid out a damning portrait of systemic undeclared donations and bribes from big Brazilian corporations that he said had fatally undermined the election result in Latin America's biggest country.
"This is enough to invalidate the mandate," he said.
But when the other six judges on the panel began voting in turn, it became clear that the outcome may go the other way. The next three to vote after Justice Benjamin decided in favour of Mr Temer and the session was expected to continue late.
Brazilian analysts were unanimous in predicting at least a narrow acquittal.
Meanwhile, Mr Temer fired a dramatic shot in a separate case when he refused a demand by prosecutors to provide a written deposition by Friday. He demanded that the probe against him be shut down instead.
The conservative leader is under investigation for obstruction of justice when he allegedly agreed to paying hush money to a senior politician jailed for corruption.
Rather than meet the deadline to answer 82 questions in writing, his lawyers branded the probe a "comedy," an "inquisition" and "arrogant."
Mr Temer's legal problems - on top of corruption probes opened against a third of his cabinet and many of his congressional allies - come just as Brazil is struggling to exit its worst recession in history.
If Mr Temer were removed, Congress would have to pick a new interim president to serve the rest of his term to the end of 2018 - in the second leadership crisis in just over a year.
Mr Temer was only vice-president when re-elected on the ticket of then-president Dilma Rousseff in 2014. However, after Congress impeached the leftist leader in 2016 for breaking accounting rules, her conservative coalition partner Temer took her place.
Mr Temer was clearly taking comfort from the apparent direction the court is taking.
"He is very serene, calm, confident that he has the best legal arguments and will be victorious," a presidential palace source told AFP, asking not to be named.
But attention will now turn to Mr Temer's battle against the obstruction of justice and corruption allegations.
Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot accuses Mr Temer of having agreed to pay hush money to former lower house of Congress speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is in prison for corruption.
Mr Temer says the central piece of evidence - a secretly made audio recording of a conversation he had with a meatpacking industry tycoon - was doctored.
Analysts say Mr Janot could soon up the ante by filing formal charges.
Under the constitution, the lower house would have to approve the charges by a two-thirds majority before a trial in the Supreme Court.
The approval process in Congress could be lengthy and Mr Temer is working daily to maintain enough support among legislators to defeat any eventual charges.
If he goes, the speaker of the lower house would take over for 30 days during which legislators would choose a new interim president to serve through 2018.
The lack of a clear consensus figure is thought to be the major reason why allies have not yet deserted Mr Temer.
The main partner to his PMDB party in the ruling center-right coalition, the PSDB social democrats, has shown signs of jitters and was due to meet next week on its stand.