Brazil's Judges Called On to Clean Up Political Mess, Again

  • President Michel Temer could lose mandate in court decision
  • Crisis damaged relations between executive and judiciary

Ian Bremmer Says Impeachment Likely Soon in Brazil

Flailing in yet another political crisis, Brazil is once more looking to its judges for salvation. This time, they could determine the fate of its president, Michel Temer.

On June 6, Brazil’s top electoral court, the TSE, is due to resume its judgement of the 2014 election campaign that could see Temer ousted from office. Aides say the president is determined to resist such an outcome. After playing a key role throughout last year’s impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s judiciary finds itself in the eye of the storm once more, caught between the opposing demands of the public and the government.

Michel Temer

Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

Allies of the Temer administration would consider an adverse court ruling as an "honorable exit" for a president sinking in a quagmire of corruption allegations, preferable to either impeachment or trial by the Supreme Court. But the president himself is working to avoid defeat at the TSE, according to three aides -- including two cabinet ministers -- who were not authorized to speak on the record because of the delicate subject matter.

The presidential press office declined to comment for this story.

The TSE will judge whether the 2014 election campaign, won by Rousseff with Temer as her vice-president, benefited from illegal donations. If the court rules that it did, Temer may be stripped of the presidency. Even though he could appeal, prominent government allies have hinted that an unfavorable ruling could prompt them to jump ship.

"We think that the judgement of the TSE will be an important date," said Tasso Jereissati, the leader of the PSDB to the O Globo newspaper on Thursday. "Let’s see what happens on the 6th."

Temer’s team is working on a scenario whereby one of the judges would request more time to analyze the case, or else hold Rousseff solely responsible for any wrongdoing while exonerating Temer, according to one presidential aide. If, however, the court appears minded to condemn them both as June 6 approaches, the president will try to have the judgement postponed, the aide said.

But that’s not going to be straightforward due to a lack of effective communication between the presidential palace and the court, said two people with direct knowledge of the TSE. Over the past few days there has been no dialogue between Temer’s team and Gilmar Mendes, the president of the TSE, according to one of the two people, who is linked to the president’s defense lawyers. Mendes usually converses frequently with politicians.

Oscar Vilhena, a legal scholar and director of Sao Paulo’s FGV law school, said that there is pressure on the judges to push back the date of the ruling.

"It’s unacceptable that judges should be pressured, but that doesn’t stop legal arguments from the defense being presented in a robust way," he said. "It appears that these two things are happening at the same time."

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