Brazil's acting president gets to work to fix economy

Mrs Rousseff (left) used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilise as she braced herself for an impeachment trial. Mr Temer (above) wasted no time in putting his stamp on Brazil.
Mrs Rousseff (above) used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilise as she braced herself for an impeachment trial. Mr Temer wasted no time in putting his stamp on Brazil.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Mrs Rousseff (left) used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilise as she braced herself for an impeachment trial. Mr Temer (above) wasted no time in putting his stamp on Brazil.
Mrs Rousseff used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilise as she braced herself for an impeachment trial. Mr Temer (above) wasted no time in putting his stamp on Brazil.PHOTOS: REUTERS

Former vice-president vows to unite country, installs business-friendly Cabinet

BRASILIA • Brazil entered a new era as interim president Michel Temer took power from suspended leader Dilma Rousseff, installing a business-friendly government that ends 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America's biggest nation.

The centre-right former vice-president wasted no time in putting his stamp on Brazil, naming a new government that he said would restore "credibility" after months of economic and political turmoil. One key nomination was a respected former central bank chief, Mr Henrique Meirelles, for finance minister, with the task of helping the huge economy claw out of the deepest recession in decades.

"We must significantly improve the business environment for the private sector," Mr Temer said in the presidential palace on Thursday just hours after Mrs Rousseff left, amid emotional scenes, to start her six-month suspension pending an impeachment trial on charges that she broke government accounting rules.

"It is urgent to restore peace and unite Brazil," said Mr Temer, 75. He vowed "dialogue" and promised to maintain the generous social programmes run by Mrs Rousseff's Workers' Party, lifting tens of millions of people from shocking poverty. The party had enjoyed the longest reign of a democratically elected party in Brazilian history.

"The Workers' Party was a party of hope, but its leaders got intoxicated by power, and now that hope has been dashed," former legislator Helio Bicudo, 93, an early member of the party, told the New York Times.

No women in new government

BRASILIA • Brazil's interim president Michel Temer's caretaker government is not a day old but already has an image problem. Where are the women?

All 24 ministers presented to the nation in a televised ceremony after the suspension of Brazil's first female president, Mrs Dilma Rousseff, were white males.

"It's a government of white men and quite frightening," analyst Ivar Hartmann, a public law expert at the FGV think-tank in Rio de Janeiro, said.

"It's the first time since the (1964-85) dictatorship that there has not been a single woman."

Mr Temer talked about unifying the country but the absence of women and blacks immediately raised questions over how much unity there could be.

Mrs Rousseff was not known as a feminist leader especially, but landmark laws protecting women against violence and imposing quotas for black students at universities were passed under her rule. Fifteen women served as ministers during her first four- year term and the second.

The ex-beauty contestant wife of Mr Temer, Marcela, who is 42 years younger than the acting president, has been given rave treatment by an often anti-Rousseff-leaning Brazilian media. "Beautiful, maiden-like and a homemaker," Veja magazine called her in an article that sparked a storm of mockery - and support - on social media.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

There was immediate criticism that the new Cabinet consists entirely of white men - a dramatic shift from the more diverse Cabinet presided over by Brazil's first woman president.

The international community responded cautiously to the change in leadership. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said he trusted "Brazil's democratic processes", and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States would "respect the government institutions, traditions and procedures". But in Latin America, Venezuela "categorically rejected" what it called a coup and Cuba expressed its "total solidarity" with the suspended president.

Mrs Rousseff used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilise as she braced herself for an impeachment trial set to drag on for months - including through the Olympics, opening in August in Rio de Janeiro.

"What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the Constitution," she said in what could be her final address from the presidential palace, flanked by her soon-to-be- sacked ministers. "I may have made mistakes, but I committed no crimes."

Hours earlier, a nearly 22-hour debate in the Senate closed with an overwhelming 55-22 vote against Mrs Rousseff. The 81-member Senate now has up to six months to hold an impeachment trial. A two-thirds majority vote at the end would remove Mrs Rousseff, 68, from office for good.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Brazil's acting president gets to work to fix economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe