Brazil’s Temer denies coup conspiracy against Rousseff

Joe Leahy
Michel Temer listens during an interview in New York, U.S.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Brazil's vice-president Michel Temer has rejected allegations from President Dilma Rousseff that he is conspiring to launch a parliamentary coup against the leftist leader.

After a vote by the house of congress on Sunday night in favor of her impeachment, Ms Rousseff is to fly to New York on Thursday night for a UN meeting on Friday where she is also expected to give media interviews portraying the impeachment process as unconstitutional and a coup.

"There is no coup whatsoever happening here in Brazil," Mr Temer, who has otherwise largely stayed out of the front lines of the impeachment battle, told the Financial Times in a rare interview. "Various ministers of the Supreme Court have said the possible impeachment of the president of the republic would not represent a coup. It is a constitutional process."

The comments mark an escalation of the impeachment battle as an increasingly desperate Ms Rousseff seeks international support to avert her possible removal from power as early as next month.

Struggling with a deep economic recession and a sweeping corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras, Ms Rousseff and her Workers' party, the PT, are facing the potential end of 13 years in power.

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If the senate agrees to accept the impeachment process, under which Ms Rousseff is accused of manipulating the national accounts, she will be suspended and Mr Temer, as vice-president, will become acting president.

If she is eventually impeached, with a decision from the senate expected by the opposition as early as June, Mr Temer would take office until the next elections in 2018.

The impeachment process follows a civil war in the ruling coalition that has pitched Ms Rousseff and the PT against their former main coalition partner, the PMDB. The party is headed by Mr Temer but early this month he temporarily stepped down to avoid the appearance of involvement in the process.

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A 75-year-old constitutional lawyer and veteran politician, Mr Temer said he had stayed quiet during the battle. But he said he was making an exception this time to speak to the international media in protest against Ms Rousseff`s expected comments during her forthcoming visit to New York.

Ms Rousseff, during a press conference in Brasília earlier this week, described him as a "conspirator" against her government.

He said proof there was no coup was that Brazil would be operating normally while Ms Rousseff was in New York.

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He would assume the acting presidency while she was away, as is normal under the law. When she returned on Saturday, she would resume the presidency.

"So then, what kind of coup is this?" he said.

He said political and popular support for impeachment was also overwhelming with the 513-seat lower house of congress voting by 367 votes for the motion, well over the two-thirds, or 342 votes, required for it to pass, and polls showing 60 to 70 per cent of Brazilians were in favour of Ms Rousseff`s constitutional removal.

"Therefore, I ask, when she accuses me of being a conspirator or a coup-monger — do I really have the capacity to influence 367 deputies [congressmen] and 70 per cent of the Brazilian population? It's entirely without foundation this claim."

He said Ms Rousseff should defend herself in the senate instead of creating problems for Brazil by making false declarations outside the country.

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"What she should do in my view is defend herself in the senate . . . with solid arguments so that the senate does not judge and impeach her."

He rejected Ms Rousseff's arguments that the impeachment, while it conformed with the constitution in terms of procedure, was unconstitutional in terms of its content.

She has argued the charges of manipulating the budget did not constitute an impeachable crime, giving the process no legal base and therefore making it a coup.

But Mr Temer said impeachment was a political trial, not a legal one. The manipulation of the budget broke the law and under the constitution if such an offence was committed by the president he or she would be subject to a process of "political accountability".

He said he was not participating in the process. He had over the past year instead argued for a process of national unity "to lift the country out of the crisis".

"I'm not doing any work, any action, but I am aggrieved by her words," he said.

He also attacked what he said was "a proposal from her and those near her" that if she fell, the PT and its allies would fill the streets with protesters and create chaos in the country.