Michel Temer: The man who now leads Brazil

By Daniel Gallas
BBC South America Business Correspondent, Brazil

  • Published
Michel TemerImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Michel Temer may soon be president

Until recently most Brazilians would have struggled to recognise Michel Temer if they were shown a picture of the vice-president.

But the 75-year-old law professor has played a key role in the impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

Under Brazil's constitution, he became acting president after the Senate voted in favour of launching an impeachment trial against Ms Rousseff, suspending her.

Mr Temer is a discreet politician who seems always to be hovering around the centre of everything important, yet - up until now - never in the spotlight.

But recently he has come out of the shadows, as a skilled politician intent on ending the Rousseff presidency and beginning a new era in Brazil.

Mr Temer's most notable achievement as a politician has been to help the country's biggest political party - the PMDB - form coalitions with every president in the past two decades. He is currently party president.

He presided over Brazil's lower house of Congress during the years of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government (1995-2002), when Brazil underwent a liberal programme of privatisations and opening-up of the economy.

And under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2002-10, known as Lula) and Ms Rousseff, he has played a key role in helping push forward their Workers' Party agenda of state-led investments.

But rather like his party, which has not held outright power for over two decades, Mr Temer has always been a kingmaker, but never king.

Both party and man avoid clear ideological positions, which leaves them in a comfortable position for negotiating their participation in coalitions of any political colour.

As Brazil's political crisis worsened and Ms Rousseff's Workers' Party bore most of the brunt for the many scandals in the country, the PMDB saw an opportunity to finally seize power.

For most of last year, as Ms Rousseff's situation deteriorated, Mr Temer kept a low profile.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Mr Temer also worked with the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

But in December, things began to change.

The then-speaker of Brazil's lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, also a PMDB politician, opened impeachment proceedings against Ms Rousseff for allegedly doctoring government public finances - an allegation the president denies.

A few days later, a bitter letter written by Mr Temer to Ms Rousseff was leaked to the press, in which he complained that he had been neglected in making key decisions in the coalition.

In March, the PMDB officially abandoned the coalition.

Open battle

In April, the battle between Mr Temer and Ms Rousseff for Brazil's top job finally came out into the open.

Mr Temer sent a WhatsApp recording to a few MPs with a draft of the speech he had prepared in case Ms Rousseff lost the 17 April impeachment vote in the lower house.

In it, he outlined how Brazil needed a "government to save the country".

Mr Temer said the message was sent by mistake, but Ms Rousseff accused him of deliberately releasing his speech.

Media caption,
Who could replace Dilma Rousseff?

Furthermore she accused both Mr Temer and Mr Cunha of being "chief and vice-chief of a coup" against her.

Both men denied they were conspiring for Brazil's top job.

In the days leading to the 17 April vote, both Mr Temer and Ms Rousseff met dozens of lawmakers, with some accounts of tough negotiations of jobs and promises in exchange for votes in Congress from both sides.

So what could Brazilians expect now?

In October 2015, the PMDB launched a manifesto called Bridge to the Future, which outlined what policies they would defend within the coalition.

Most policies are popular with businesspeople and investors and would go a lot deeper into rebalancing Brazil's budget than President Rousseff has done so far - such as creating a minimum age for retirement, changing the scope of social programmes, opening up the oil sector, making labour laws more flexible and cutting mandatory spending in health and education.

However, many of those policies are likely to find a lot of resistance.

"It is the type of programme that even a government that was elected by the people with total legitimacy from the vote would have a very hard time approving in the middle of such a big crisis," says economist Laura Carvalho, from USP university.

"They will try to push that through and there's going to be a lot of resistance from social movements and labour unions."

Swiss bank accounts

Mr Temer has signalled he may approach the opposition PSDB party to secure a majority in Congress - but that would be a hard sell for many, as the majority of Brazilians rejected the party in the 2014 elections.

There are also questions of how Mr Temer would handle corruption investigations, as his party features prominently in many scandals, including the speakers of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, and the former speaker of the lower, Mr Cunha.

Mr Cunha was suspended from the post of lower house speaker earlier this month over allegations he tried to obstruct a corruption investigation against him.

Image source, Getty Images
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Eduardo Cunha opened impeachment proceeding against Ms Rousseff

So far Ms Rousseff has refrained from intervening in the Federal Police and court investigations into alleged corruption at state oil firm Petrobras - even when the scandal caused serious damage to her party.

Would Mr Temer do the same?

He is not under direct investigation, but Mr Cunha - a powerful ally who has led much of the impeachment process that may benefit Mr Temer in the end - is alleged to hold millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. Mr Cunha denies the allegations.

There is a public outcry against Mr Cunha, so Mr Temer will be under pressure to turn against him and keep investigations independent.

During many occasions throughout the current crisis, Ms Rousseff has stressed that she was elected by 54.5 million Brazilians in 2014 and therefore has legitimacy to lead the country.

As her vice-president, Mr Temer indirectly received the same votes.

He will now lead the whole nation - even those who until a few weeks back did not even know who he was.