Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil: President Temer's first year after impeachment

Brazilian President Michel Temer Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Brazilian President Michel Temer was his predecessor's deputy, until she was impeached

A year has passed since Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached.

If her successor, Michel Temer, had any hopes of pacifying Brazil after the fractious battles that divided the country last year, recent days have proven he is still far off the mark.

President Temer, who will only get to rule for two and a half years, has his attention focused on pushing through economic reforms, which are making him highly unpopular.

Especially as they come at a time of deep recession, the worst in the country's history.

So, is Brazil about to approve far-reaching reforms and then immediately elect a government that promises to undo them?

The future of Latin America's biggest economy is far from certain.

A tale of two countries

Michel Temer's Brazil often seems like two different countries.

In one Brazil, where a record 13.5 million people are unemployed, the mood is bleak.

One poll suggests that three in every four Brazilians disapprove of the current government.

But another country emerges when one talks to market players.

The Brazilian stock exchange has been on one big rally since Mr Temer came to power. Inflation and interest rates are falling sharply, and many analysts forecast that recession is already over, although growth is still likely to be moderate in 2017.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of cultural group taking part in a demonstration against the president in Sao Paulo

The big pension debate

The government argues that the recession is being caused by the widening gap between spending and revenues.

President Temer proposes to fix the economy by rebalancing the budget, starting by the costly retirement system.

However, at the end of April, thousands marched against his plan, in the first general strike in over two decades.

In cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, there were violent scenes. One poll said 71% were against changes in retirement laws, which will see people work longer and contribute more to the public pension system.

Winning streak

Yet just a few days after the protests, the government comfortably passed the reform bill through one of its initial committees in Congress, as if nothing had happened.

The "mother of all reforms" will probably be voted in the Lower House's plenary later this month. Government officials and many analysts believe Mr Temer can get the reform fully approved as early as September.

In his first year in office, Mr Temer's winning streak in Congress is impressive. Especially when compared to his predecessor Dilma Rousseff, who couldn't even muster one third of the votes to avoid the impeachment proceedings.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Temer was booed when he went to a ceremony for the Chapecoense footballers killed in plane crash in 2016

Last year, Mr Temer approved a change to the constitution, imposing a spending cap that freezes the national budget in real terms for 20 years.

And last month, just hours before the general strike, MPs comfortably approved Mr Temer's labour reforms, which make hiring and firing more flexible and weaken trade unions.

The low-popularity president

But a president that can get things done in Congress is not necessarily a popular one.

Mr Temer often says his strength comes from his lack of popularity.

Most people who indirectly voted for him in the 2014 elections - when he was part of Dilma Rousseff's winning ticket - now despise him for what they say was a betrayal.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Former president Dilma Rousseff'

That strangely leaves him in the comfortable position of not having to worry about pleasing voters.

"Popularity will come later. My plan is to approve reforms, to put the country back on track. That's my only goal," he said in response to polls.

Mr Temer recently promised to leave politics after 2018.

The return of Lula?

Ironically, Mr Temer's success in approving unpopular reforms could be his own undoing.

Recent opinion polls suggest former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - known as Lula - emerges as the strongest contender to win next year's presidential elections, which will be the first opportunity for Brazilians to have their say on national politics since last year's impeachment.

Lula accuses his old ally of masterminding a coup d'état against Ms Rousseff.

The main reason for the coup, according to Lula, was to sponsor reforms that "revoke workers' historic rights and force people to work longer".

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Media captionJulia Carneiro on how things changed for Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

That logic seems to strike a chord with part of the electorate. In the past few weeks, as the reforms advanced through Congress, Lula's standing in the polls also increased.

However, Lula may not even be allowed to run for president and could go to jail before next year's elections, as he is facing five different corruption charges. He appeared in court earlier this week.

After two long years of investigations, a massive probe into bribery at state oil giant Petrobras is finally reaching its pinnacle this year.

What is Operation Car Wash?

What next?

The scandal left few politicians standing in Brazil. With the exception of Lula, virtually all well-known politicians from top parties are badly bruised in polls.

That could leave the door open for a few newcomers, such as the far-right MP Jair Bolsonaro and Sao Paulo mayor and former Apprentice presenter Joao Doria.

But the picture at this stage is too unclear for any predictions. Also the way election campaigns are financed have been revamped since 2014, and the role of private money has been drastically reduced.

Many thought last year's impeachment saga had closed a confusing chapter in Brazil's history. Now with the benefit of hindsight, it seems it opened the most unpredictable chapter.

Brazil's future - to be written by voters next year - is anyone's guess.

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