Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff has gone, but her portraits remain - or do they?

Brazil's Presidential Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha looking on in front of a portrait of suspended President Dilma Rousseff during ministerial meeting to discuss the 2016 Rio Olympics, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 7, 2016.
Brazil's Presidential Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha looking on in front of a portrait of suspended President Dilma Rousseff during ministerial meeting to discuss the 2016 Rio Olympics, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 7, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at a press conference in Brasilia on May 13.
Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at a press conference in Brasilia on May 13. PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (AFP) - When suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cleared her desk, said goodbye to staff and surrendered her office to her bitter enemy Michel Temer, Brazil's traumatic power shift was complete.

Except for one niggling issue: What to do with all the Rousseff portraits on presidential palace walls?

On Friday, 24 hours after Ms Rousseff's exit from the Palacio do Planalto in Brasilia, the initial answer seemed to be to take them all down.

An AFP correspondent saw a maintenance man struggling to remove a particularly large portrait of Ms Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, from the communications department early in the morning.

Folha newspaper's website published a picture of smaller portraits - featuring a smiling Ms Rousseff in her presidential sash - stacked on a desk.

But by midday, Mr Temer's new government - already dealing with accusations of illegitimacy, not to mention responsibility for tackling Brazil's huge economic problems - reassured the public.

Ms Rousseff, after all, has only been suspended for six months pending judgement in her impeachment trial on charges of breaking government accounting laws.

That means Mr Temer, who had been her vice-president, automatically gets full presidential powers but can't call the job his to keep unless she is completely removed.

As rumors of the portrait drama spread, his chief of staff Eliseu Padilha told a press conference that Mr Temer himself had intervened.

"Portraits of president (Rousseff) must not be changed in any public administration building," Mr Padilha said in the Planalto room where just one day earlier Ms Rousseff had said her goodbyes.

Mr Temer "understands that for now his government is temporary".

The issue was sensitive because Ms Rousseff has repeatedly called Mr Temer a coup plotter who engineered impeachment on false charges to seize power halfway through her second term. Forcing her from office for a trial in the Senate was one thing, but pulling her picture, as if already deciding that she'd never come back, was another.

After the government's statement on leaving the Rousseff portraits, officials insisted they'd never had any other intention.

"It's not true they were being taken down," said Mr Fabio Rocha Frederico in the communications department. "Look in there," he said, pointing to a small picture of the departed president on the wall.

But down in the bowels of the Planalto building, where offices line the corridors, confusion persisted.

"What we've heard is that someone could come to collect them, but that they'll be put in a safe place until it's known if she's coming back," said one government worker, who like others in his office spoke on condition of anonymity.

"My guess is it will stay up there for one or two days more. They'll take it away on Monday," a colleague added.

"I don't know," said a third worker, expressing her sadness at Ms Rousseff's departure and distaste for Mr Temer. "For me the portrait should stay there - right until 2018 when she finishes her mandate."