RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - His manners and dress are so impeccable that the man who may soon be Brazil’s next president is quietly known by political allies and enemies alike as “The Butler.”
Yet Vice President Michel Temer, a respected constitutional scholar who would step into the presidency should President Dilma Rousseff be impeached in coming weeks, is not quite what you might expect.
Married to a former beauty pageant contestant 43 years his junior who has his name tattooed on her neck, Temer has also released a book of poetry titled “Anonymous Intimacy.”
Its terse verse was penned on airplane napkins while he traveled from the capital Brasilia to his base in Sao Paulo. It includes praise for the female form and oblique allusions to Brazil’s polarized politics, which some hope he can ease with his consensus-building manner.
It is by no means guaranteed that Rousseff will be impeached on accusations of accounting irregularities in the government budget. But the chances of that sharply increased when Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) broke with the ruling coalition this week.
The impeachment push has gained force from widespread public anger over near-daily revelations of graft in Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption investigation involving kickback schemes at state-run oil company Petrobras.
Rousseff is not facing charges despite serving as chairwoman of Petrobras for several years as the schemes played out and testimony from state witnesses that she knew about the graft. Temer also faces no charges, although he has been accused by a senator turned state’s witness of having a hand in shady Petrobras ethanol deals.
Both leaders deny any wrongdoing.
Temer, 75, has said he will not contest the next presidential election in 2018 - unsurprising, considering a recent survey from polling group Datafolha showed just 1 percent of those surveyed would vote for him.
For 15 years, he has led the PMDB, a regionally fragmented party with no consistent ideology, yet which holds more Congressional seats than any other.
Since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, the PMDB has mostly been content to let other parties hold the presidency while it gravitated toward power regardless of who held it. The party positioned itself as the legislative power broker, winning pork barrel perks and control of ministries in return for support in Congress.
That has now come to an end and the PMDB plans to field its own presidential candidate in 2018. Impeaching Rousseff would give it power within weeks.
Temer’s supporters say his long political career working across the ideological spectrum would make him a strong transition leader and help set the PMDB up for a presidential win two years down the line.
“He is a good, experienced politician,” said Wellington Moreira Franco, a top advisor to Temer and the main architect of the PMDB’s plans to lead Brazil out of its economic crisis. “His values include temperance, prudence and wisdom ... He works more as a peacemaker than somebody who generates conflicts.”
Rousseff and her ruling Workers’ Party say that impeachment would amount to a coup.
Temer honed his craft over several years in Brazil’s bare-knuckle lower house of Congress where he served as speaker three times and was an ally to both centrist President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Despite the voracious and varied political food fights that played out in Brazil’s lower house, Temer was known for remaining above the fray.
He rarely raises his voice, is said not to curse and refrains from the seemingly obligatory wild gesticulation and theatrics his peers employ during debates.
“In moments of crisis and transition, like now, the ideal leader is one who is neither too much nor too little of anything,” said Eliane Cantanhede, a political commentator with the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper and Globo TV who has covered the vice president for decades.
“Temer is assertive, but not aggressive. He speaks, but not too much. He’s restrained. Yet he has shown he can negotiate with anyone, on the right or left.”
Despite his low-key demeanor, Temer is not above splashes of vanity. Several years ago, he had a nose job that corrected a deviated septum but also, he acknowledged, improved his looks.
Then there is his marriage to Marcela, 32, an ex-beauty pageant contestant more than four decades his junior whom he met when she was 19. A year later they were married and the enamored youth tattooed her husband’s name on the back of her neck.
The son of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in 1925, Temer was the youngest of eight children and began his political career in the 1960s as an aide in Sao Paulo state’s education secretary under Governor Ademar de Barros - one of the politicians who inspired the Brazilian saying: “He steals, but he gets things done.”
As vice president since Rousseff took office in 2011, Temer has mostly been relegated to rallying support in Congress and ensuring his fractious party’s support for her agenda.
But that deteriorated in the past year as Rousseff’s popularity plummeted to single digits in polls.
Temer put his relationship with Rousseff on ice in December, when he sent her a letter full of laments that dramatically opened with the Latin proverb “Verba volant, scripta manent” - “Words fly, writings remain.”
“This is a personal letter. It’s a rant I should have made long ago,” Temer wrote in the note dated December 7.
He complained about being sidelined and taken for granted, of only being used to win Congressional votes and to tackle crises, and about not being invited to a meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
“Finally,” Temer’s 875-word break-up letter with Rousseff concluded, “I know, madam, that you do not trust me or the PMDB today, nor will you trust us tomorrow.”
Reporting and writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Kieran Murray and Daniel Flynn