Former minister Henrique Meirelles. Photo: ABr
henrique meirelles 2018 presidential election

Former minister Henrique Meirelles. Photo: ABr

Henrique Meirelles left the Ministry of Finance on April 6, eyeing the October presidential election. The tone of his last speech as a cabinet member left no doubt: he was speaking as a candidate. “I have always put myself at the service of the country, regardless of which party holds power […] My priority was always to get Brazil out of crises and back towards growth.”

Despite polling at a paltry 1 percent, Meirelles has entertained the idea of a presidential win that would be fueled by GDP growth and a lower inflation rate. “Feel-good factors will start showing up soon,” he says. That, in Meirelles’s calculations, would propel his name forward to join the ranks of viable candidates.

Unfortunately for him, those feel-good factors have yet to present themselves. The Brazilian Real has lost enormous value this month; oil prices have skyrocketed; and unemployment remains high, at 13.1 percent. The Brazilian economic recovery reminds, as Brazilians say, the flight of a chicken – it’s low and it doesn’t last for long.

</p> <p>The same week that Meirelles announced his bid for the presidency, the government also recognized that, despite its initial 3 percent GDP growth prediction, the economy won’t be growing more than 2.5 percent. Markets already believe that number might end up around 2 percent.</p> <h3>Why Henrique Meirelles is useful to his party – and why he won’t win</h3> <p>Back in April, Meirelles joined MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement), President Michel Temer’s party. By running with MDB, Meirelles will benefit from the party’s mammothlike structure. No other party counts more mayors among their ranks – and they can be valuable allies in grassroots politics.</p> <p>But Meirelles is also useful to the party. The former minister is <a href="http://brazilian.report/2017/11/06/brazil-minister-paradise-papers/">obscenely rich</a> and will be able to finance his own campaign, meaning that congressional candidates won’t need to split MDB’s share of the public campaign fund. Yet Meirelles’ bid is also a final effort to offer at least some relevance to Temer.</p> <p>Temer’s administration essentially ended a year ago, after the president was secretly taped negotiating the payment of hush money to a former House speaker. He faced two indictment requests, which were both blocked by the House thanks to immense pork-barreling efforts. Since then, however, the government hasn’t been able to push its agenda, and Temer has been more or less turned into a political corpse.</p> <p>At one point, he entertained the idea of running for another term. Of course, that didn’t last for long. At the beginning of May, Temer received a taste of what the campaign trail might look like. He visited the site of a collapsed building in São Paulo&#8217;s city center (the federally-owned building was occupied by 372 squatters). The president, however, decided to leave after only 10 minutes.</p> <p>As soon as Temer exited his car and began talking to the press, protestors at the site started to shout &#8220;Temer out,&#8221; a phrase that has been used by his detractors since he took office. As tensions were growing, the president&#8217;s security team decided that it would be safer to leave. As the head of state drove away, protestors kicked his car, and even threw objects.</p> <p>With a presidential candidate representing his party, Temer might have the leverage necessary to negotiate MDB’s support in the second round – those negotiations are usually based on political patronage and quid pro quo.</p> <p>Currently, the markets <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-05/ex-banker-battles-to-win-over-brazil-public-in-presidential-bid">love</a> Henrique Meirelles – but this is the only positive thing to have emerged thus far from his presidential campaign. Meirelles clearly has an uphill battle ahead of him, with an additional twist when compared to his competition: his MDB is known for its internal division. Regional leaders don’t necessarily fall in line with what the national committee decides. The party might have its own presidential nominee, but local candidates will support the one who will help along their own electoral projects.

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.