Brazil’s President Michel Temer, together with congressional leaders, vowed on Sunday to block any attempt by legislators to grant themselves a corruption amnesty as he sought to defuse a series of scandals.
In a rare weekend news conference, the president sought to reassure Brazilians that he is fighting corruption among the political elite and working to restore an economy that he predicted will see an upturn in the second quarter of 2017.
Temer — a center-right veteran politician who took power after the bruising impeachment of his leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff — has stated his mission is to save Brazil from its worst recession and corruption scandal in decades.
However, the country’s would-be savior is now beset by controversy himself just as the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on a 20-year spending freeze that would be the first of several deep reforms billed as measures to restore the economy’s health.
Seated alongside the speakers of the Senate and lower house of Congress, Temer said he would veto any attempt by the legislature to grant itself an amnesty on undeclared campaign donations.
“It would be impossible for the president of the republic to approve something of this nature,” he said. “We all agreed there isn’t the slightest basis… for going ahead with this proposal.”
He was responding to public outrage over an attempt in the lower house on Thursday to vote on a bill apparently including an amnesty for the previous acceptance of undeclared funds — often suspected to be bribes — in political campaigns.
Temer, who took office vowing to end the paralysis and infighting of the Rousseff presidency, was also forced to respond to the latest crisis within his own cabinet.
It involves a powerful minister, government secretary Geddel Vieira Lima, who forced to resign on Friday after the former culture minister accused him of pressuring him to intervene in a business deal. The ministerial resignation was the sixth since Temer took over in May.
The former culture minister has claimed that Temer also pressured him over the business deal and that he had secretly recorded the president, according to local media reports.
Temer said he had never misused his influence and blasted the use of secret recordings.
“For a minister to record the president of the republic is extremely serious,” Temer said.
– Storm on the horizon –
The televised show of unity between Temer and the two congressional leaders suggested the president retains enough political capital for now to proceed with his economic reforms.
He promised recession-weary Brazilians that they would notice positive changes.
“We’re not standing still, we’re working to build growth, and this will come little by little,” he said, predicting “results” in the second quarter.
“We will propose reforms so that Brazil can exit the recession,” he added. “We will boost industry, business and agribusiness.”
But the 20-year spending ceiling — to be followed by proposed cuts to social security, pensions and other politically sensitive areas — has already prompted fury in some quarters.
In downtown Sao Paulo, thousands of people gathered Sunday for a rally that organizers said attracted 40,000 demonstrators, although police did not provide any official figures.
Meanwhile, Temer and the elite in Brasilia face a potentially devastating new storm on the corruption front.
Numerous members of Congress and political parties have already been linked to the alleged receipt of bribe money and campaign slush funds as part of the giant Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal.
That could soon expand with accusations stemming from a mass plea bargain struck with dozens of executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, the company at the core of the Petrobras scheme.
Odebrecht systematically bribed politicians and parties, partly to win inflated contracts with Petrobras.
Now, Brazilian media reports indicate that the executives may name as many as 150 politicians in the plea bargains struck with investigating prosecutors.
Temer said it would be “naive” not to be worried about the coming revelations.
“When you’re talking about… 150 people from the political class, of course there’s concern, in an institutional sense.”