Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Brazil's Senate president survives confidence vote


Brazil's Senate decided not to expel the body's president, absolving a key ally of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of charges he took bribes for helping steer government contracts to a construction company.

Senators voted 40-35 with six abstentions on Wednesday against ousting Renan Calheiros, who was accused of accepting US$8,000 a month from the company. Calheiros denied the charges and had refused to resign.

Calheiros had successfully fought for a secret ballot -- keeping the vote on his fate out of view of a public already weary and suspicious of politicians after a series of corruption scandals that have already toppled several Silva allies.

The Senate vote came six weeks after the Supreme Court indicted 40 people on charges of paying or taking bribes, including Silva's former chief of staff and congressmen from allied parties.

Calheiros left the Senate in the capital of Brasilia without speaking to reporters but later released a statement calling the decision a "victory for democracy."

In the statement, issued through the government news agency Agencia Brasil, Calheiros said he would now work on advancing a legislative agenda that has been stalled since the scandal broke in May -- including a vote on a tax the government considers essential to fund its budget next year.

Analysts were mixed on whether Wednesday's Senate vote would hurt or help Silva, Brazil's first elected leftist president.

"Acquittal was better than conviction, because everyone knows Renan has helped the government a lot and nobody was sure about his successor," said Octaviano Nogueira, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.

But David Fleischer, a political analyst also at the University of Brasilia, said Silva's opponents could use the vote against him.

"I don't think the decision was good for the government because [opposition parties] will blame the government for working behind the scenes to save Renan and will stall procedures in the Senate." Fleischer said.

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