New era for Brazil as Rousseff cedes power to Temer

2016-05-13 08:20
Brazilian Interim President Michel Temer. (Evaristo Sa, AFP)

Brazilian Interim President Michel Temer. (Evaristo Sa, AFP)

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Braslia – Brazil entered a new era on Thursday 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 he said would restore "credibility" after months of economic and political turmoil.

One key nomination was a respected former central bank chief, 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," Temer said in the presidential palace just hours after 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 Temer, 75, who at one point lost his voice while addressing allies and a crush of journalists.

White men

Temer offered an olive branch to Brazil's left, which accuses him of having engineered the impeachment process to mount a coup. He vowed "dialogue" and promised to maintain the generous social programs run by Rousseff's Workers' Party, lifting tens of millions of people from shocking poverty.

However there was immediate criticism of the fact that the entire new cabinet consists entirely of white males, without a single woman – a dramatic shift from Rousseff's achievement in becoming Brazil's first female president. She also had at least one Afro-Brazilian in her government.

"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 (1964-1985) dictatorship that there has not been a single woman. This is worrying."

A small but noisy group of female protesters chanted "putschist!" as Temer and his new ministers entered the executive building.

Tears and defiance

Defiant to the end, Rousseff used her final minutes in the presidency to denounce the "coup" and urge supporters to mobilize as she braces 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," Rousseff said in what could be her final address from the presidential palace, dressed in a white jacket and flanked by her soon-to-be-sacked ministers.

Several of her staff were in tears.

She then exited the building to shake hands, hug and wave to some 500 supporters in a cheering, red-clad crowd gathered outside the modernist capital's seat of power.

There, she gave another fiery speech, while her predecessor and mentor, the once wildly popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, stood by her side, repeatedly wiping the sweat from his brow in the tropical heat.

She was then whisked away in a convoy of black vehicles.

Celebrations and selfies

Hours earlier, a nearly 22-hour debate in the Senate closed with an overwhelming 55-22 vote against Rousseff, as pro-impeachment senators burst into applause and posed for selfies and congratulatory group photos.

Only a simple majority of the 81-member Senate had been required to suspend Rousseff for six months pending judgment.

A two-thirds majority vote will be needed at the end of the impeachment trial to force Rousseff, 68, from office for good.

A onetime Marxist guerrilla tortured under the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Rousseff was expected to hole up in her official residence, where she will continue to live with her mother during the trial. She will retain her salary and bodyguards.

The leader of the Workers' Party in the Senate, Humberto Costa, said his side would now work to convince senators to support Rousseff in the trial and turn the tide in her favour.

Cautious reactions

The international community responded cautiously to the change in leadership.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for "calm and dialogue" and said he "trusts that the country's authorities will honour Brazil's democratic processes," his spokesperson said.

The United States said it was confident Brazil was strong enough to withstand the political turmoil.

"We intend to respect the government institutions and traditions and procedures," White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said.

In Latin America, where the Workers' Party is an emblem of a decade of left-wing dominance that lately appears to be waning, some reactions were more barbed.

Venezuela "categorically rejected" what it called a coup, Cuba expressed its "total solidarity" with Rousseff, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega condemned what he called a "legal and political monstrosity."

Read more on:    michel temer  |  dilma rousseff  |  brazil

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