Brazil cabinet shuffle marks informal start of election race: aides

BRASILIA (Reuters) - More than one third of President Michel Temer’s cabinet will resign over the next week to campaign for their Congressional seats in the October general election, presidential aides said on Wednesday.

Brazil's Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles gestures during the opening ceremony of the second phase of the program on basic sanitation "Avancar Cidades", in Brasilia, Brazil March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Temer himself plans to run for president though that will depend on whether the leader’s high disapproval rate falls as the economy gathers steam, according to two aides, who were not authorized to speak to the media.

The exodus of 11 ministers includes Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles who is expected to quit by Tuesday to announce that he is joining the ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party (MDB) and could become Temer’s running mate or bid for president himself if Temer does not run, the aides said.

While he had not announced his plans, Temer said he could run in a radio interview on Wednesday, “because the government needs a candidate who defends its achievements” in recovering Latin America’s biggest economy from its worst recession.

He said Meirelles would also be “very able” for the job.

Health Minister Ricardo Barros turned in his resignation on Tuesday, and Transport Minister Mauricio Quintella is expected to do so on Thursday, one of the aides said. He will be replaced by the head of the National Transport Infrastructure Department, Valter Silveira, another government source said.

The ministers of mines and energy, communications, education, environment, tourism, sports, social development and national integration will all leave by April 7, the deadline to quit government posts to be able to run in the election.

The head of the National Development Bank BNDES, Paulo Rabello, has also announced his departure

Temer, 77, who came to power in 2016 when President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, has to decide by a party convention in June whether he is a viable contender to keep the top job.

If Temer’s approval ratings does not improve by then, former banking executive and central bank governor Meirelles would be the government’s presidential candidate, the two Temer aides told Reuters.

They both said Deputy Finance Minister Eduardo Guardia was the most likely pick to replace Meirelles.

Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú and Leonardo Goy; Editing by Marguerita Choy