The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) -- considering charges that Temer’s election in 2014 should be annulled because of the role of corruption money -- voted 4-3 to acquit the embattled center-right president.
The verdict spared recession-ravaged Brazil its second leadership crisis in 14 months, following the impeachment of leftist president Dilma Rousseff last year and her replacement by her then-vice president Temer.
The lead judge on the TSE case, Justice Herman Benjamin, headed the push to sack Temer, saying that systemic undeclared donations and bribes from big Brazilian corporations fatally undermined the 2014 Rousseff-Temer election in Latin America’s biggest country.
“This is enough to invalidate the mandate,” he said.
But in a marathon process during which each of the seven judges voted one by one, giving detailed arguments, the tide turned. Finally, the TSE’s president Gilmar Mendes cast the deciding vote with a call for cool heads and stability at a time of national turmoil.
“You don’t switch the president of the republic every hour,” he said. “There are serious proven facts but not enough to annul the mandate.”
Clearly feeling strengthened, Temer fired a dramatic shot in a separate obstruction of justice case that he faces by refusing a demand by prosecutors to provide a written deposition by Friday. He demanded that the probe against him be shut down instead.
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 the TSE had removed Temer, Congress would have had to pick a new interim president to serve the rest of his term to the end of 2018.
Temer greeted the verdict as “a sign that the national institutions continue to guarantee the smooth functioning of Brazilian democracy,” his spokesman said afterward.
However, the decision caused dismay among those pushing for Brazil to face up to its corruption problem.
Attention will now turn to Temer’s battle against the parallel case in which he is accused of obstruction of justice and corruption.
Under the constitution, the lower house would have to approve the charges by a two-thirds majority before a trial could start in the Supreme Court.
That approval process in Congress could be lengthy and 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.
Eurasia Group consultants issued a note estimating that Temer’s chances of being toppled before the end of his term had dropped to 30 percent from 60 percent.