Brazilian finance minister considers presidential run

Brazil’s finance minister and the architect of the country’s recovery from its worst recession in history said on Monday that he was considering standing in presidential elections this year. 

If Henrique Meirelles, who won over markets by promising to put Brazil’s budget back on a more fiscally sustainable path, does decide to run, he will have to resign by next week under electoral rules barring sitting public servants from contesting the October poll. 

“I should announce my decision by the start of next week,” Mr Meirelles told reporters in the southern city of Porto Alegre, while adding that he had not yet made a final decision. 

Brazil’s 2018 elections are shaping up to be among the most unpredictable in years after the recession and a sweeping corruption scandal devastated support for the country’s political classes

Mr Meirelles would be seen as a centre-right establishment candidate in an election in which early polls are showing support for populists on the left and right. 

A survey by pollster Datafolha in January showed him with just 1-2 per cent of voter support. By contrast, populist leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva led with 36 per cent, while populist extreme-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was running second with 18 per cent. 

The most experienced centre-right politician planning to enter the race, São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, of the business-friendly Brazilian Social Democracy party, had just 7 per cent support. 

“Populists (on both the left and the right) appear [to be] in the ascendancy and the centrists are facing an uphill struggle,” Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist with Capital Economics, said in a note. “It goes without saying that all of this casts a long shadow over Brazilian assets.” 

Mr Lula da Silva’s hopes of contesting the elections, however, took a turn for the worse on Monday when he lost another appeal against a guilty conviction for corruption. 

The former president is facing jail time unless he can win a separate appeal in Brazil’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, which is expected to be heard next week. 

Local media has speculated that President Michel Temer might try to run for re-election even though he has repeatedly denied the possibility and is plumbing record lows in the opinion polls for a serving president. 

People familiar with the matter said Mr Temer and Mr Meirelles had discussed the finance minister’s political future over the weekend and whether they should join forces in the election but no firm plans had been decided. 

Mr Meirelles was central bank head during Mr Lula da Silva’s two terms in office between 2003 and 2011. He became finance minister in May 2016 when Mr Temer took office as interim president until the formal impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in August that year. 

During his tenure, the economy has recovered from a 3.6 per cent decline in 2016 to grow 1 per cent last year while inflation has dropped from double digits to below 3 per cent.

“The first decision I will have to take is if I will continue at the ministry, or I will leave to be a candidate,” he told reporters on Monday. 

He said his campaign platform would be based on his achievements as finance minister, with the government passing labour and budget reforms. 

But for markets, the big disappointment of the Temer and Meirelles government has been its failure to pass reforms to Brazil’s pension system, which is seen as a threat to the government’s long-term solvency, analysts said. 

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