New Brazilian President Michel Temer Might Be Less Popular Than Dilma Rousseff
Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff wasn't perfect; if you get impeached, you have made at least a few mistakes. But all signs point to her replacement being much worse. Despite her flaws, Rousseff — referred to by most Brazilians as simply "Dilma" — was a pretty good president with successful center-left policies (like Bolsa Familia) that have helped Brazil's poor move ahead economically during the 13 years of Worker's Party rule. Her successor, former Vice President Michel Temer will be a disappointment to many. And that's before considering the corruption allegations against him (all of which he has denied).
Temer is a 75-year-old law professor and the son of immigrants from Lebanon. His years in politics have been spent building coalitions with the various ruling parties — all the presidents of the past 20 years have had his party's support. BBC News described him as "a kingmaker, but never king." That's because the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party is the country's largest, but hasn't put forward candidates for president in 20 years. Now he finds himself at the driver's seat, but only because of the impeachment proceedings.
There are several big reasons why he will not live up to Rousseff. The biggest one is his economic policy. Brazil is in its worst and longest recession since the 1930s; the economy is contracting and unemployment is almost 12 percent. To counter this, Temer plans to rebalance the budget by cutting spending. With Greece as the perfect example, austerity does not work. Their economy is now just 55 percent of what it was in 2008. And Europe as a whole has struggled to maintain growth since the crisis began. A cut in Brazil's government spending will only make matters worse, especially when it's done through cuts in health and education spending.
Then there's Temer's diversity problem. In a country where half the population identifies as black or mixed race, he chose all white men to fill his cabinet. Not a single woman or person of color. Forbes quoted Manoela Miklos, a columnist with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, who described the gravity of the situation. Beyond its symbolism, Miklos argued it "says a lot about what the public policies could be when led by a group of such little diversity." What's worse is that they could treat inequality as natural, she argued. Temer responded to these allegations by promising he would diversify the cabinet and by appointing a woman to head the country's state-run investment bank.
Neither of these moves proved popular, which brings us to what is probably the most troublesome thing about Temer: his support among the Brazilian people. USA Today reported that in May a poll showed 58 percent of Brazilians wanted to impeach him, too. Given that he wasn't even elected, his missteps will be even more harshly judged by Brazilians: his approval rating hovers around 13 percent. Combine that with his lack of democratic mandate, anti-government protests could easily continue.
On top of all this are charges of corruption. Rousseff was impeached for an accounting trick that moved budget items from one year to another, something that used to be routine. She was never connected directly to the Petrobras "car wash" scandal that has implicated some of the country's top politicians. But the same can't be said for Temer. In June the Brazilian Supreme Court released a plea bargain testimony that alleges Temer asked a Petrobras official for illegal campaign contributions. Though Temer has denied the allegations, three of his cabinet members have already resigned after their connections to the scandal became public.
Whatever the truth is, in the minds of many Brazilians he is part of the corrupt class of elites that they want to replace. Combine that with his planned right-wing economic policy and his disregard for Brazil's diverse population, and it's clear he will not hold a candle to Rousseff, who on top of being the country's first female president, proposed inclusive legislation supporting the rights of LGBT Brazilians, the country's indigenous population, and protecting the country's forests from loggers and cattle ranchers. Her impeachment is Brazil's loss — especially with a successor like this one.