April 3, 2018 / 4:03 PM / 2 years ago

Brazil's finance chief joins ruling party, eyes presidential run

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles joined the ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party (MDB) on Tuesday with an eye to running for president or becoming President Michel Temer’s running mate in the October election.

Brazil's Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles looks on during a ceremony of joining to the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party, in Brasilia, Brazil, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Meirelles, 72, has openly weighed a presidential bid, but might have to settle for running for vice president if Temer ends up trying for the presidency, despite his polling in the low single digits in recent surveys.

Meirelles left the Social Democratic Party (PSD) when it became clear the party planned to back Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin in his presidential run.

Meirelles, a former banking executive and central bank governor, said the MDB, Brazil’s largest party, would decide the ticket at its convention in June or July.

Meirelles all but said he will resign as minister by the end of the week, which under Brazilian election law is the deadline for leaving a government position before the campaign.

“I should stay until Friday,” he told reporters.

Deputy Finance Minister Eduardo Guardia is expected to replace him and continue his policies of fiscal restraint.

Meirelles said the purpose of teaming up with Temer in the elections was to continue the government’s work recovering Latin America’s largest economy from its worst recession on record.

“Our priorities with Temer are to create more jobs, expand income and create equal opportunities for Brazilians,” he told party leaders at a meeting that felt like the launch of the Temer-Meirelles ticket with a campaign jingle playing loudly.

“Yes, it is almost the start of the campaign, we just do not know who will be the presidential candidate and who will be the running mate,” said a party strategist, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to talk about the matter.

Temer, 77, came to power in 2016 when former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached. He has signaled he wants to run for the presidency and has to decide before the party convention whether he is a viable contender to keep the top job.

If Temer’s approval rating does not improve by then, Meirelles would be the government’s presidential candidate, Temer aides told Reuters last week.

More than one-third of Temer’s cabinet will have resigned by the end of this week to campaign for their Congressional seats in the Oct. 7 general election, the aides said.

Meirelles, a former chairman of now defunct BankBoston, was Brazil’s central bank governor during the 2003-2010 presidency of leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when a commodities boom boosted prosperity and rapid growth.

Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassú; Editing by Dan Grebler and Richard Chang

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