May 2, 2018 / 6:34 PM / in 7 months

Brazil's Meirelles says government unpopularity would not handicap bid

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Potential Brazilian presidential candidate Henrique Meirelles is certain his success in steering the economy through stormy waters will shield him from voters’ disapproval of the current administration he served as finance minister.

Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (MDB) presidential candidate Henrique Meirelles reacts during an interview with Reuters in Brasilia, Brazil May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

In an interview with Reuters, Meirelles said on Tuesday that he has agreed with his party, the ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), that he will run for president in October’s election if current President Michel Temer decides by July he will not run. Meirelles has ruled out running as Temer’s vice president.

Meirelles’ challenge is to set himself apart from Temer’s government, with its single-digit approval rating, while also defending its legacy of free-market policies.

Polling at hardly 1 percent of voter intentions, he has been touring the country since stepping down from the Finance Ministry in April, in a bid to raise his profile and position himself as the face of Brazil’s recovery from the deepest recession in decades.

“There is no question that there is a communication challenge, that’s obvious. But I have an advantage when facing that challenge, which is that reality works in my favor,” he said in his new office at the MDB headquarters in Brasilia. “My track record is very positive, especially in terms of personal integrity.”

Meirelles is one of several presidential hopefuls looking to fill a vacuum left by the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who maintains he will still run for the presidency and leads polls. [nL1N1RS05U]

As head of the central bank under Lula, Meirelles helped usher in a period of fast growth underpinned by high commodity prices that allowed the government to undertake an ambitious agenda of income redistribution and bolster the social security net.

He will now look to establish himself as a centrist with market-friendly credentials, while bashing the policies of Lula’s hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016.

That is a common strategy among candidates in what is set to be the most unpredictable Brazilian election in decades, though it puts him in contrast with radicals such as far-right law-and-order lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro, who has performed well in early polls. [nL8N1RS02A]

Meirelles said his centrist stance should play to his advantage in a likely second-round vote.

“Any centrist candidate who reaches the second round will win the election, because both sides of the radical spectrum have very clear limitations,” he said. In a potential runoff against Bolsonaro, “I have no doubt that a lot of people who currently say they would vote for Lula would have no problem voting for me.”

Reporting by Bruno Federowski and Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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