Next task for Brazil's new acting president? Rebuild trust

Michel Temer faces challenges to helping Brazil rise above its messy impeachment proceedings, but the biggest difficulty might be regaining Brazilians' trust.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Brazil's acting President Michel Temer arrives to address the nation at Planalto, the presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Thursday, May 12. In his first words to Brazilians as acting president, the former vice president promised to beef up the fight against corruption.

Impeachment proceedings of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff are beginning in earnest, and what the new acting president calls his top priority could be his most difficult: regain the trust of Brazilians.

"Trust me," acting President Michel Temer said in his inaugural speech, according to The Guardian. "Trust the values of our people and our ability to recuperate the economy."

In his bid for trust, Temer must overcome challenges to his political legitimacy as an unelected president who, like his predecessor, has been accused of corruption, says R. Andrew Chesnut, a Latin America specialist and chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Temer's efforts to shift the country further right follow the current political mood, but his ability to energize the economy will determine his success. 

"Like the US, Brazil is deeply polarized, so while we are witnessing a definite turn to the right, there will be limits to how sharp the shift is and its duration," Dr. Chesnut says in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Temer, who is considered likely to move the country further toward the free market, is backed by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), while Ms. Rousseff represented the Worker's Party. The job is his for at least 180 days while Rousseff's impeachment process continues. After that, the Senate could choose to either reinstate the president or impeach her and leave Temer with the remaining two years of her Rousseff's term. 

The acting president has appointed Henrique Meirelles as minister of finance, perhaps hoping the former central bank head and reputed "inflation buster" can restore confidence in Brazil's once-thriving economy, GlobalPost reported. He has promised to cut federal pensions, as analysts have said federal spending is dragging down the economy.

Temer wants his legacy to be one of "national reconciliation," he told CNN, saying that the unification of all groups, including the opposition, was the only way to move the country out of its current crisis.

"It is urgent to calm down the nation and unify all of us," Temer said in a speech, according to CNN. "Brazil lives today in the worst economic crisis of our history – 11 million unemployed, inflation up two digits, deficit of 100 billion reals and the situation of health care in Brazil is chaotic."

Although polls suggest the majority of Brazilians want Rousseff impeached, they may not have any more confidence in the rest of the government.

"Organized politics have been discredited by the majority of population, way before this new Federal Police's operation to fight corruption," Karina Bellotti, professor of contemporary history at the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil, told the Monitor in an e-mail. "People usually don't feel represented by these politicians once they take their positions, and there is the sensation that there's 'nothing we can do.' "

Temer has appeared confident during his interviews and appearances and expressed sanguine hopes for the eradication of the Zika virus, success of the summer Olympic Games, and transition to smoother politics before the 2018 election. 

His first few days as acting president have been full of staffing concerns, as he reduced the cabinet from 31 to 22 members to cut costs, but he alarmed some Brazilians by selecting the first all-male cabinet since the 1970s – a mostly white group, as well.  

"Though Temer emphasized unity and a government of 'national salvation' upon introducing his cabinet, the ministers he has chosen couldn't be more divisive," Chesnut says, pointing to the absence of Afro-Brazilians in a country known for racial diversity.

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