BRASILIA, Brazil – President Michel Temer survived a key vote Wednesday night on whether he should be tried on corruption charges, mustering support in Brazil’s lower house of Congress despite abysmal approval ratings and widespread rejection among his countrymen.
To avoid being suspended and put on trial for charges of obstruction of justice and leading a criminal organization, the president needed the support of at least one third of the 513 deputies in the Chamber of Deputies.
Temer reached the threshold of 171 about two hours into the voting, compared to 151 voting against him at that point. The final tally was expected later in the night.
Temer survived a similar vote in August on a separate bribery charge.
“This accusation is fragile, inept and worse than the first one,” legislator Celso Russomanno said while voting in favor of Temer.
The opposition, which spent much of the day maneuvering to postpone the vote, blasted Temer.
“I vote with more than 90 percent of Brazilians who have already convicted Temer’s corrupted administration,” said lawmaker Luiza Erundina.
While it was a clear win for Temer, the president has become so weakened by repeated scandals that it remains to be seen whether he can muster support for key reforms. Temer, then vice president, took over last year after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office. His term goes until Dec. 31, 2018.
The administration, which many feel lacks legitimacy because of how Temer came to power, has faced so many scandals that the president’s approval rating is around 3 percent, according to recent polls.
Temer, 77, has spent recent weeks shoring up his support, doling out local projects, plum positions and favorable decrees, and his allies had predicted he would receive at least the same support as in the previous vote on trying him.
For several hours Wednesday, many opposition lawmakers refused to enter the chamber, hoping to deny the necessary quorum and delay the vote for as long as possible. Some who entered the chamber shouted, “Out with Temer!” A quorum was finally reached late Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Temer was hospitalized briefly for a urinary obstruction, but emerged smiling and flashing two thumbs up.
The charges against him 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 in the probe.
Prosecutors allege Brazil’s government was run like a cartel for years, with political parties selling favors, votes and plum appointments to powerful businessmen. They say that Temer took over the scheme when he took power last year, after his predecessor was impeached and removed from office, and that his party has since received about $190 million in bribes.
Temer denied the charges and contends the prosecutor who brought them had a grudge against him. In an address to lawmakers Wednesday, Temer’s lawyer, Eduardo Carnelos, said the latest indictment contained no proof and was so confusing that it “assaults the Portuguese language, it assaults logic.”
A few hundred people gathered on Sao Paulo’s main thoroughfare to denounce Temer and ask for more affordable housing, but many Brazilians have grown weary of the seemingly endless succession of corruption allegations against their leaders. There were no protests in front of the Congress, for instance.
“I no longer care what is going to happen to Temer because everything will stay the same whether he stays or not in the presidency,” said Maria Ines Costa, a 22-year-old nanny who was waiting for a bus on the same avenue where others were protesting. “Brazil will continue being ruled by thieves.”