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Published On: Thu, Sep 1st, 2016

Brazil’s kingmaker topples Dilma Rousseff and becomes king

BRASILIA — Michel Temer used to be known in Brazil as a behind-the-scenes operator. That was before he triggered a bid to topple his boss, Dilma Rousseff, and took her job as president.

After months of playing his cards close to his chest, Rousseff’s vice-president took over as acting head of state in May ahead of the impeachment trial which finally saw her removed from office on Wednesday.

After 13 years of leftist government, Rousseff’s 75-year-old running mate-turned-nemesis has already started to push through market-friendly policies during his three months as acting president.

He is due to hold office until the current mandate expires in 2018, with the task of getting the ailing South American giant’s economy out of recession. But with popularity ratings as dismal as Rousseff’s and many of his allies implicated in corruption, Temer faces a tough task restoring stability in Brazil.

Temer had long been a backroom wheeler-dealer. The son of Lebanese immigrants was perhaps best known to voters for being married to a 33-year-old former beauty queen, Marcela Tedeschi. But as Brazil’s economic boom turned to spectacular bust and a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras tainted nearly the entire political class, Temer slowly emerged from the shadows to seize the starring role.

Rousseff and her running mate always made an awkward couple. As head of the PMDB, a centre-right party, Temer represented the biggest force in the former leftist guerrilla’s shaky coalition.

For years, the PMDB played the role of kingmaker, content with pulling the strings and keeping the keys to the government pork barrel.

Temer was cautious, gradually making his disapproval of Rousseff known as the momentum built in favour of impeaching her for allegedly breaking state accounting laws.

In October 2015 he published a document called “A bridge to the future” in which he criticised “excesses” in government policies. And in December, he complained of being treated as “a decorative vice-president”. But while lower-level PMDB supporters liked to refer to him as “President Temer”, he insisted he had no such ambitions, except perhaps for the next scheduled elections in 2018.

In March he finally broke cover, calling on the PMDB to abandon the government and go into opposition.

The suspended Rousseff branded him a traitor and conspirator in the impeachment process. She said it turned the commonly accepted practice of papering over shortfalls in the government’s accounts into an excuse for a “coup”.

Temer has served three times as speaker of the lower house of congress and has been president of the PMDB for 15 years. Before he became president, his private life was considered more colourful than his political reputation. Tedeschi is his third wife. He has five children born across four decades. In addition to a work on constitutional law, he has authored a book of poetry.

Political analysts say Temer’s most immediate threat comes from the Petrobras scandal, in which a host of powerful PMDB colleagues are implicated. He himself is not under investigation, but key witnesses have accused him of participating in schemes to bilk the company of billions of dollars.

Temer has also been found guilty of campaign finance irregularities.

A report in August in Veja magazine said he asked for millions of dollars in political donations from construction tycoon Marcelo Odebrecht, who has been jailed in the Petrobras scandal.