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Collective fright momentarily gripped Brazil’s political establishment this week when a list of names stemming from the country’s sweeping corruption investigation into state-owned oil company Petrobras emerged in the media. The excel spreadsheet featured 200 politicians who were reported to have received money from Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction group and one company at the centre of the scandal.
The establishment were spared when Sérgio Moro, the judge running the case, withdrew the list from the public domain within hours, saying it was not clear whether the payments were legal donations or backhanders. But even if the payments were above board, the list showed the extensive links between Brazil’s politicians and the businesses involved in the country’s largest graft scandal.
Latin America’s biggest country is preparing for the impeachment and possible overthrow of its president, Dilma Rousseff, over allegedly manipulating the budget.But, even if she is removed, many are questioning whether the country’s wider political elite can throw off the shadow of the Petrobras saga and revive a sinking economy.
Lawmakers could start voting as early as mid-April on whether to impeach Ms Rousseff, the leader of the leftist Workers’ party. The spotlight is now on Michel Temer, Ms Rousseff’s vice-president and leader of her largest coalition partner, the centrist PMDB, who would take over in the event of an impeachment.
The 75-year-old Mr Temer has occupied many important posts in Brazil, ranging from public security secretary in the state of São Paulo to head of the lower house of congress.
However, while Mr Temer himself has not been formally implicated in the Petrobras scandal, in which former executives are accused of collaborating with politicians and contractors in exchange for kickbacks, members of his party are allegedly deeply involved. The corruption probe looking into the allegations is known as the Lava Jato(Car Wash) investigation.
“If Temer were to take over the presidency, the model would be to form a government of national unity,” said Matias Spektor, professor of international relations at FGV academic institution in São Paulo. “The problem is, of course, Lava Jato. If Temer were to be implicated in the scandal, any attempt at a government of national unity would become difficult if not impossible.”
For the power brokers in Brazil’s congress, working out what a post-Rousseff government might look like is becoming increasingly urgent. Support for the president has been further damaged this month by mass protests and a botched attempt to appoint her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as a minister — allegedly to protect him from prosecution in the Petrobras case.
Lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, a member of the PMDB and an enemy of the president who has already withdrawn his support for the government, has proposed a timetable for deciding whether to impeach Ms Rousseff.
Under Mr Cunha’s timetable, the measure will be debated in 15 sessions of a special congressional committee and then voted on by both houses of Brazil’s congress. The first vote, in the 513-member lower house, where the impeachment would need a two-thirds majority to pass, could come as soon as mid-April. The senate would then have up to 180 days to consider the matter and cast its vote, during which time Ms Rousseff would be suspended.
Most analysts expect that if the lower house votes for impeachment, the senate will follow suit. If the lower house votes for impeachment, Mr Temer could take over as acting president within weeks. If the senate then also backs the move, Mr Temer would officially take over as president until the next election, due in 2018.
Next week Mr Temer’s PMDB is expected to decide whether to stay in the ruling coalition. Analysts are betting that the PMDB and other members of the sprawling coalition will start defecting.
The Odebrecht list poses another risk. Any direct evidence that corruption funded Ms Rousseff`s 2014 election campaign — a charge she denies — could lead Brazil’s electoral watchdog to annul both her and Mr Temer’s mandate because they ran on the same ticket. If that were to happen this year, Mr Cunha, the house speaker who himself is being investigated for corruption, would become president for 90 days until new elections were held.
Brazil may have no shortage of politicians, but it is suddenly finding itself bereft of effective leaders.
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