SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Michel Temer is facing the biggest challenge to his year-old presidency after a businessman allegedly taped him endorsing the payment of a bribe to a jailed former lawmaker to buy his silence. Temer denies the claim and insists he won't resign, but his allies and adversaries are already considering a future without him. Here are some of the possible scenarios:
IF HE STAYS
Temer has already survived a series of scandals and plummeting popularity, but this allegation is different. If he does hang on, he will have to do it with a shrinking coalition in Congress, single-digit popularity ratings and street protests. Many lawmakers have already withdrawn their support and members of his Cabinet have promised to resign. Temer is trying to pass austerity measures through Congress to revive Brazil's economy, including bills to loosen labor laws and shore up the pension system. That agenda is now stalled.
IF HE RESIGNS
Lower House Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over for up to 30 days to organize voting by 513 deputies and 81 senators for a new president to serve out Temer's term, which ends in December 2018. If the regular rules are applied, candidates would have to be affiliated with a political party for at least one year before the day of the election. But even that is not a given. Many lawmakers want Congress to pass a bill to allow voters to elect a new leader, but that process could last months.
IF HE IS REMOVED BY THE ELECTORAL COURT
Temer was re-elected vice president in 2014 on a ticket with President Dilma Rousseff, and he moved into the top office when she was impeached and removed from as president last year. Brazil's highest electoral court is reviewing allegations that the Rousseff-Temer ticket received illegal campaign financing, and if it should annul their victory, Maia also would take over and Congress would choose a new president.
But many lawmakers and judicial experts believe a recent decision could trigger new open presidential election. The governor of the state of Amazonas and his deputy had their 2014 victory annulled by the same electoral court and a successor will be elected by voters shortly. Temer allies, however, argue the Amazonas case is different and insist only Rousseff should be punished. That would also greatly complicate the situation, because if Temer lost that case, he could appeal to Brazil's Supreme Court.
IF HE IS IMPEACHED
Some lawmakers have put forward requests to open impeachment proceedings. That could be a lengthy process, though. Firstly two-thirds of a full session of Brazil's lower house would have to accept the accusation and half of the Senate would have to do the same. If Temer lost both votes, he would be suspended for up to 180 days. If two-thirds of the Senate then found him guilty, he would be permanently removed from office. Congress would then choose a successor to finish the term.
IF HE HAS TO STAND TRIAL
If Brazil's attorney general's office decides there is evidence that Temer obstructed justice, it can request that the lower house put the president on trial before the Supreme Court. If two-thirds of deputies agreed, Temer would be automatically suspended from office until there was a ruling by the court. If he was found not guilty, he would be able to return to his job. If not, he would lose his seat and trigger the congressional election mechanism.