RIO DE JANEIRO – Acknowledging the unlikelihood of his re-election, Brazil’s deeply unpopular president on Tuesday said he wasn’t running and endorsed his former finance minister for the top office less than five months before voters in Latin America’s largest nation pick a new leader.
President Michel Temer’s decision to back former Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles came after months of weighing whether to run himself. Temer’s approval rating has consistently been below 10 per cent — at one point it reached 3 per cent — and mounting corruption allegations against him have frequently drowned out his government’s ambitious reform agenda.
“Meirelles is the best of the best,” Temer said, standing next to the former finance minister at an event in Brasilia put on by Meirelles’ Brazilian Democratic Movement party.
In his short speech, broadcast by Globo TV, Temer acknowledged his chances of re-election were slim.
“I am realistic. I know what I did and what I did not do (in office),” he said.
Temer was vice-president when he moved into the top office in 2016 after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from power for illegally managing the federal budget.
While overseeing a handful of reforms, including a rewriting of labour laws, Temer’s government has suffered numerous scandals.
Temer himself has been charged with corruption in two cases by the country’s attorney general. Congress’ lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, which must approve any prosecution of a sitting president, voted twice last year to shield Temer from being put on trial. He could still be tried in those cases once he leaves office at the end of this year.
More recently, federal police have been investigating whether Temer used family members, including his young son, to launder illicit money by buying real estate and doing renovations.
Temer has strongly denied wrongdoing in the any of the cases, denouncing the probe as “criminal persecution.”
Despite his woes, Temer had repeatedly signalled this year that he was considering a run for office in October’s national elections. Last week, he even appeared to be in campaign mode as he celebrated the accomplishments in his two years of government, including a reduction in inflation and revival of state oil company Petrobras.
Meirelles, who recently stepped down from his Cabinet post to run for president, was also central bank president during the administrations of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a time of strong growth in Latin America’s largest economy.
While he doesn’t have the same corruption baggage of Temer or several other presidential hopefuls, Meirelles has struggled to gain traction in the polls. The most recent Datafolha institute poll, released last month, said only 1 per cent of those survey expressed intent on voting for him.
The overall poll leader is da Silva, who was jailed last month for a corruption conviction and is barred from running.