2018 Election 2018 Election

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles all but announces presidential bid

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finance minister henrique meirelles brazil 2018 presidential election

Henrique Meirelles hopes to be on the ballot in 2018. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

“Employment is the best social policy there is.” Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles loves this phrase. The architect of a series of austerity reforms that imposed harsh and unpopular measures on workers, Meirelles is now trying to capitalize on Brazil’s slow – but steady – economic recovery. A presidential hopeful, the minister is hoping to associate his image with rising employment rates.

While it’s not exactly a secret that Meirelles has his sights set on the 2018 presidential election, he has publicly avoided acknowledging himself as a candidate. But on Monday, Meirelles took a close step during an interview with Folha de S.Paulo.

Meirelles claimed that Michel Temer’s administration will have a candidate next year, “but it won’t be São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin.” He said that Alckmin and his party, PSDB, lack commitment to the administration’s legacy. Given these bold statements, Meirelles might as well have said that he will be the new candidate.

A darling of financial markets, Meirelles remains relatively unknown to the general public outside of his home state of Goiás. His voting intentions are paltry, between 1 and 2 percent. But Meirelles credits the low numbers to the fact that he has yet to declare himself a candidate.

Meirelles claims that his decision will come at the right time, and that he would support Temer’s government. It’s a smart move with the political establishment, as it could secure backing from Brazil’s most powerful party (Temer’s PMDB). However, it risks damaging his image with voters. The federal administration is approved by just 5 percent of Brazilians.

By being more open about his candidacy, Meirelles could also jeopardize the approval of the pension system reform. The bill can’t be approved without the support of PSDB. But will the party support an unpopular piece of legislation that could end up being used to boost Meirelles’ electoral chances? PSDB leaders already say that Meirelles’ shot at Alckmin was an act of disloyalty.

Henrique Meirelles and JBS

Another strike against Meirelles is the fact that between 2012 and 2016, he was chairman of the board for J&F, the parent company of the JBS meat giant. JBS, of course, has been implicated in scandals that range from selling spoiled beef, to bribing members of Congress, to siphoning money from public pension funds. The company’s owners, Joesley and Wesley Batista, are currently in jail for allegedly having manipulated financial markets for personal gain.

For his work with the Batistas, Meirelles reportedly earned roughly 180 million BRL. The minister told Piauí that this sum was “rather small” considering that he set up an online-based bank for the meat producing brothers, “which is worth a fortune.” Meirelles’ legal representatives claim that he cannot be held liable for J&F’s illegal activities, since his contract stipulated consulting services only.

An expert interviewed by Piauí disagreed, however, and explained that as chairman of the board, Meirelles could still face some heat.

Meirelles’ political career

A former global COO of BankBoston, Henrique Meirelles entered the political arena in 2002 as a member of PSDB. He wanted to run for the Senate, but settled for a congressional seat due to internal party disputes. The former banker invested 887,000 BRL of his own pocket money to finance his campaign – more than any other congressional candidate in the country. It paid off. But while he was elected with over 180,000 votes (the best score in his home state of Goiás), he was never inaugurated as a congressman. Then-President-elect Lula da Silva invited him to become the president of the Central Bank that same year.

In 2010, Meirelles was considered a potential running mate for Dilma Rousseff. He also contemplated running for governor in Goiás. In the end, though, he had his hopes dashed by Lula and Michel Temer. To run for office, Meirelles would have had to step down as president of the Central Bank early in 2010. Yet Lula, a president with an 87 percent approval rating, wanted him to stay put. As had happened numerous times throughout the previous two decades, Meirelles couldn’t say no to the head of state.

But though Lula didn’t want Meirelles to run for governor, he was fond of having the banker serve as Dilma’s running mate. That idea, however, was shot down by Temer. At the time, Temer was chair of PMDB and conditioned his party’s support to nominate him as Rousseff’s VP candidate. Seven years later, Henrique Meirelles took the job as Finance Minister as a way to become the “candidate of the economic recovery.” His fate depends on how well Michel Temer fares.

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About the author

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.