Brazil’s Temer turns to reforms, but can he deliver?
SAO PAULO (AP) — Overcoming an effort to try him on corruption charges, Brazilian President Michel Temer tried Thursday to move past the scandals that have dogged him, but it was unclear if he has the support to push his market-friendly reform agenda.
A congressional vote late Wednesday temporarily spared Temer from trial, but it was only the latest in a series of threats to his political survival. He emerged victorious from a court challenge earlier this year to the vote that elected him vice president, he resisted calls for his resignation when bribery allegations came to light, and he has now beaten two attempts to remove him from office and put him on trial on graft charges. Temer has called the charges against him absurd and politically motivated.
With all obvious threats to his removal behind him, Temer and his advisers appeared eager to get back to governing.
“It’s time to focus on what interests our people. The bridge that we are building to the future is solid, firm and resistant,” Temer said in a video posted on social media. He touted incipient economic growth, early signs of job creation and falling inflation. His chief of staff also promised that a social security reform would be passed this year.
But with so much political capital spent on merely surviving, analysts are questioning whether there’s any left over to cut spending on pensions or loosen labor laws to revive Brazil’s economy, Latin America’s largest.
While cheered by many investors, those proposed reforms are deeply unpopular — as is Temer himself. His approval rating is as low as 3 percent, making him the most unpopular leader in the world, according to a recent Eurasia group survey, and not just because of scandals. Temer’s decision last week to offer steep discounts on fines for environmental infractions created an outcry, as did a watering down of the rules that combat labor abuses.
Temer’s promise was always that he would use his legendary deal-making skills to modernize Brazil’s economy and drag Latin America’s largest nation out of the deepest recession it had experienced in decades. Many lawmakers who supported Temer in Wednesday’s vote cited the need to sustain the nascent economic recovery as the reason for their vote.
But now, the opposite might be true, said Helio Gurovitz, a columnist with media giant Globo.
The “problem is that Temer’s continuation also offers risks to the economy,” he wrote Thursday. “The principal of these is the threat to the reform agenda, especially on social security. Temer emerged from yesterday’s vote with a parliamentary base ever more weakened.”
The 77-year-old Temer’s gift for horse-trading was on display in recent weeks as he shored up support by doling out local projects, plum positions and favorable decrees in a bid to avoid being put on trial for charges of obstruction of justice and leading a criminal organization. In the end, Temer got more than the votes he needed, but fewer than the last time Congress voted to spare him from suspension and trial.
“That leaves Temer having accomplished very little at extraordinarily high cost,” said Matthew M. Taylor, a professor at the School of International Service at American University. “The broader reformist impetus has been blemished by association with Temer and his horse-trading.”
Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who despite a corruption conviction is the front-runner for next year’s presidential race, criticized the amount of funding Temer promised to fellow lawmakers in exchange for support.
“Money that’s missing for investments in the country,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Investors, who initially cheered Temer’s rise to power, seemed uninterested in the victory. The main Bovespa stock index was down in late trading and the currency slumped against the dollar.
“The financial market is not particularly worried about what’s happening with President Temer,” said Pedro Paulo Coelho Afonso, the chief of operations at the Gradual Investimentos brokerage firm in Sao Paulo.
The charges against Temer stem from a mammoth corruption investigation that began as a probe into money laundering and ended up uncovering systemic graft in Brazil’s halls of power. Dozens of politicians and businessmen have been jailed since the probe launched in 2014.
Prosecutors allege Brazil’s government was run like a cartel for years, with political parties selling favors, votes and appointments to powerful businessmen. They say that Temer took over the scheme when he took power last year. Because the case involved a sitting president, two-thirds of the lower house of Congress had to accept the charges before Temer could be tried. But the vote only spares Temer while he remains in office; he could still face the charges after his term ends on Dec. 31, 2018.
Many Brazilians are exhausted by the seemingly endless allegations of corruption against their leaders and are holding their breath for next year’s elections.
“I am confused by all these crises and accusations of corruption that come one after the other,” said Anita Ferreira Pinto, a 46-year-old housewife who was window shopping in Sao Paulo. “I no longer know what to think or what is best for Brazil.”
Associated Press writers Mauricio Savarese in Brasilia, Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Peter Prengaman in Rio de Janeiro and AP photographer Andre Penner in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.