Watching from abroad as Brazil's anti-corruption probe rumbles into its fourth year, you can't help but think: "Well, I guess they're all corrupt..." "How could it get any worse?" No doubt, many Brazilians are thinking the same. The latest episode in this seemingly unending series of accusations and counter-accusations, rising and falling political fortunes, is President Michel Temer being charged with corruption late yesterday.
Temer now formally accused of accepting bribes that, in total, could amount to 38 million reais ($11.5 million). Temer, 76, denies the charges — just as his predecessor Dilma Rousseff did before being impeached last year over accusations of illegally manipulating the budget to boost her chances of being reelected.
Temer's legitimacy appears as slim as his chances of winning an election.
In the meantime, Brazil's political quagmire deepens further, and faith in the democratic process fades. The noose has been tightening around Temer ever since he took over the presidency without a popular vote. His successive governments have been marred by scandals related to the anti-corruption operation Car Wash ("Lava Jato") with several ministers forced to resign. Still, it looks as if Temer has enough support in the lower house of parliament to block a two-third majority vote on whether he should be tried and, potentially, impeached. For now.
As the judicial and executive branches square off again, Brazilian democracy may only find its footing again by returning to hear what the people say. The opposition didn't miss the opportunity to call for early elections as soon as the allegations against Temer first surfaced several weeks ago. With an approval rating of just 7% (the lowest in three decades) according to a poll published last week, Temer's legitimacy appears as slim as his chances of winning an election.
The same can't be said of former President Lula, even though he too is accused of corruption. He is leading current polls for the presidential election planned for next year with 30%. But in a warning that sounds like a threat, one leader of Lula's Workers' Party said yesterday that should the ex-president be sentenced by the judge, there would be "no more democratic compromise" and "open fighting in the streets." Yes, after all, it could get worse.