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The Political Equation for President Temer in the Shadow of the 2018 Elections

Ricardo Sennes

 

The biggest challenge for Michel Temer is not only that his term in office is limited to two years, but that he must deal with the political movements that will arise as a result of the upcoming elections in 2018. Within in a short time – or more precisely, by the end of his “honeymoon period” – these issues could erode the strength of his government. Naturally, there are several potential candidates in his government, who apart from the strategic calculations of the parties who back them, will define their support according to their political options in 2018.

Four variables make up the political equation Temer will have to manage for the 2018 elections. The first of these is his own political future. Although Temer may have good reasons for not wanting to be a candidate in 2018, it is notable that every president is a potential candidate for re-election. Often, it is the patriotic call or, less dramatically, the call of the party and its constituencies that compels them to run.

In any event, Temer will be a fundamental variable in the political game in 2018. Whether his popularity is high or low he will be a problem for his allies. In the first scenario, he has the possibility of being the candidate himself or he can, with a reasonable amount of discretion, choose someone else. More than this, he can influence, in a decisive way, the organization off the political parties in the federal and state elections.

If the popularity of his government plummets, which is certainly a possibility, Temer will be a heavy burden for those who want to align themselves with his cause in 2018. Potential candidates from both his government and from allied parties will tend to distance themselves from him. Therefore, the interim president will need to carefully manage the signals he sends to his supporters so as not to become the principal destabilizing factor in his own government.

The second variable in the political game that Temer must deal with is his finance minister, Henrique Meirelles. A powerful force in the current government, Meirelles has already expressed his desire to run for executive office. After being elected a deputy for the PSDB party in 2002, he took over the Central Bank in the Lula government for eight years. Meirelles then switched to the PMDB party and was considered to be a potential candidate for vice president to president Dilma. He was also considered to be a candidate for the government of Goias, his home state.

Meirelles has demonstrated that he can circulate well between PT, PSDB, PMDB, and other parties. He is also highly regarded by the media and the private sector. The problem he faces is that the image he projects is that of a banker who has few organic links to organized civil society, such as associations, civil institutions, regional political groups etc. The principal political hypothesis of his candidacy would be to achieve a rapid economic recovery which would then stimulate the resumption of rapid job growth, and also sustain social and regional policies. Considering these policies and a scenario where Temer does not run, Meirelles could potentially become a key figure in 2018. The fact that he is not a professional politician and not involved in any scandals, something rare among the leaders of PMDB, is certainly in his favor.  He also has had extensive experience as an executive in the public and private sectors. While he does not lack the ambition to be a candidate, his success will basically depend on his performance in the economic area.

Coming from the outside, José Serra, a politician who seems to have an obsession with being president, will contend for the nomination of the PMDB party. In the government of Fernando Henrique, he was not considered for a position in the cabinet. In the PSDB government he was assigned to the Department of Health and most recently to the Foreign Ministry. Serra is the kind of ally that you want close to you, but not too close, given the potential damage he can cause and the daily burden on others when they do not agree him. However, he is notorious for his ability to work and implement policies, a characteristic that his adversaries are also well aware of.

It would not be surprising if Serra could make a name for himself as minister, even in a weakened Foreign Ministry. Despite limited time and resources, he will try to produce tangible results for the country. His focus will undoubtedly be on the economic agenda. The remaining issues will be addressed only when necessary or if they generate political rewards because they are opposed to the prevailing views of the Lula and Dilma administrations. In other words, he will use the Foreign Ministry as a platform to stage a possible candidacy. Unlike Meirelles, Serra would accept the candidacy even if the government’s image is in decline due to   the faltering economy. In a negative environment like this, Serra could be Temer’s best option because he would not hesitate to assume the risk, knowing that it would be his last chance to be a candidate. The fourth variable in this political chess game is the PSDB. The party, which has been in opposition to PT in the presidential elections, but not in the legislative elections, has its own calculations to consider for 2018. Both Aécio and Alckmin are expressing their desire to run. Support for the Temer government was filled with significant internal disagreements. This is because, from a strictly political point of view, it is not clear that support for the current administration is a good option. If Temer is strengthened, it can be a problem for PSDB and if it becomes really bad, he could drag the PSDB down with him. To avoid this potential problem Alckmin proposed that the party would support Temer at least in the parliament, but without requiring any political appointments. In the end, the proposal was declined after internal discussions took place.

The support of PSDB for the government is important, although not vital. Temer must prevent PSDB from migrating to the opposition and launching an attack on his policies. When taking into consideration the addition of PT, PC do B and other leftist parties to the opposition that already exist, the artillery of PSDB would certainly weaken the interim president

The shadow of the 2018 elections will reach Temer soon and will determine his political fate after his honeymoon period comes to and end.

 

Ricardo Sennes is a managing partner at Prospectiva and a specialist in political and economic scenarios, the formulation and implementation of public policies, and the evaluation of their impacts on companies. He has experience in industrial policy, industrial promotion, and international integration. Sennes possesses a doctoral degree and a master’s degree in political science from the University of São Paulo (USP) and serves as the general coordinator of the university’s leading international affairs think tank (Gacint). He is currently a non-resident partner of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America program, a member of FIESP’s Council of Strategic Affairs, and a member of the council overseeing of the journal Foreign Affairs (Mexico and the United States).