Michel Temer: Brazil’s canny political survivor


RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 3, 2017 (BSS/AFP) -Michel Temer has been accused of everything from coup plotting to taking millions of dollars in bribes, yet nothing seems to knock Brazil’s president from the perch he unexpectedly occupied a year ago.

The ultimate survivor in one of the world’s messiest and scandal-ridden democracies, Temer easily rode out a vote in Congress on whether to send him to face trial in the Supreme Court on a bribery charge.

But maybe that’s not so surprising from the 76-year-old head of the opportunistic, center-right PMDB party.

Yes, he’s deeply unpopular with ordinary Brazilians.

Whenever he speaks on television, horn honking and pot banging can be heard in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. He was booed loudly at Maracana stadium when he opened the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

An opposing senator once even compared him to “a butler in a house of horrors.”

But Temer knows how to be friends with the people who wield power.

In Brasilia, he’s the master of creating alliances and dishing out patronage and pork. And in his hometown, the financial center Sao Paulo, he’s positioned himself as champion of the country’s business elite.

– Narrow escape –

The son of Lebanese immigrants with a fancy for poetry already had a narrow escape in June, when the country’s election court narrowly voted not to annul his mandate due to suspect 2014 election funding.

The subsequent filing of the bribery charge by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot, however, looked almost insurmountable.

The powerful Globo media group, which had previously been an important backer, turned on Temer, calling for his ouster and publishing damaging leaks on details of the corruption allegation.

And leftist opponents smelled a perfect chance for revenge.

After all, it was only a year ago that leftist president Dilma Rousseff was turned from office in an impeachment vote that she branded a coup.

The head of that supposed coup, according to Rousseff? Her vice president — Temer.

Temer had linked up his PMDB party with Rousseff’s Workers’ Party in an uneasy coalition. Little did she realize his allies would maneuver to impeach her on largely technical charges of breaking budget rules, putting Temer automatically into her place.

Now, Temer looked close to suffering a similar fate. The evidence, including footage of an aide running through Sao Paulo with a cash-stuffed suitcase, was impossible to ignore.

But ahead of Wednesday’s congressional vote authorizing a trial, Temer put those networking skills into overdrive, reportedly dishing out money for lawmaker’s pet projects at a dizzying rate.

And against the odds, his own fragile coalition held together as allies bought into his message that Brazil’s weak economy would not withstand a second abrupt presidential change in 12 months.

– Out of touch –

Before becoming president, Temer had served three times as speaker of the lower house of Congress and been president of the PMDB for 15 years. But he never enjoyed retail politics and made no pretense even as president of having a popular touch.

Rarely taking part in events where he might encounter regular voters, Temer picked a new cabinet that looked a lot like him — a collection of elderly, wealthy, white men. Eight of his ministers are being investigated for corruption.

A personal side does occasionally emerge. To the public, Temer’s most interesting biographical detail could be his marriage to a former beauty queen, Marcela Tedeschi, four decades his junior.

It turns out that Temer also enjoys writing poetry, even if his verses have become a favorite target for mockery by liberals on social media networks.

Temer, however, seems perfectly happy with his image as a distant politician.

He proudly dedicated his inherited mandate — which lasts until the end of 2018 — to implementation of painful economic austerity reforms, saying he didn’t care how it affected his ratings.

The reforms have been met with violent protests. However, the strategy worked with Brazil’s business community and a majority in Congress, which believes that austerity will roll back more than a decade of leftist Workers’ Party rule and exit a two-year recession.