Lower House Chief Snubs Brazil’s President, Just a Little

Updated on
  • With elections next year Rodrigo Maia clashed with government
  • Speaker trying to distance himself from unpopular president

Brazil’s lower house speaker is stepping up criticism of Brazil’s unpopular President Michel Temer ahead of next year’s election but is unlikely to jump ship entirely, his closest aides say.

A series of verbal spats with Temer’s camp last week, including a promise to halt fast-track legislation, reflect lower house chief Rodrigo Maia’s attempts to steer his DEM party clear of Temer’s dismal popularity ratings, according to four people with direct knowledge of his thinking. Yet his party will continue to support Temer in a forthcoming vote on a second set of criminal charges filed against the president.

The noise is indicative of how Brazil’s political landscape has shifted in recent weeks with next year’s elections increasingly contaminating Temer’s legislative agenda, as potential candidates shift their focus onto re-election amid wide-spread disillusionment with the status quo.

Rodrigo Maia

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

In early August, as the lower house debated earlier charges that could have ended the Temer presidency, some of Maia’s colleagues encouraged him to make a move for the top job. He demurred, touring TV stations instead to profess his loyalty. Now, his desire to distance himself from the president derives less from his ambition to take Temer’s place than from an eagerness to show voters that he is politically distinct. Another driving force is the fact the president’s party, the PMDB, is mired in numerous corruption scandals.

"Today it’s not possible to be 100 percent Temer," said Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a DEM federal deputy. "Next year, I think Temer will get to the eve of the elections as a very lonely president." Maia’s actions are less about breaking with the president, he added, than marking his territory.

Two other allies of Maia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that he had no intention of becoming a fierce opponent of the president, but wished to assert his independence as lower house speaker.

Efraim Filho, the leader of the DEM in the lower house, said Maia’s actions also stemmed from rising dissatisfaction within the party over the PMDB. "The PMDB puts the PMDB’s agenda in first place to the detriment of the agenda for Brazil," he said. "That’s not why we joined this government."

From the Temer administration’s perspective, Maia’s attitude is baffling and suspicious, according to one of the president’s close aides who was not authorized to speak on the record. The person said that despite Temer’s unpopularity, he still commanded the largest party in the country. The PMDB is likely to be crucial in electoral negotiations next year.

On Tuesday Maia sought to play down recent altercations, saying that his institutional defense of the legislature did not affect his good relationship with Temer. He also said that discussion would resume later in the day on a bill that had been at the center of a standoff between the government and Congress last week. The legislative proposal would allow the central bank and financial regulator CVM to impose tougher fines and reach leniency agreements with banks.

Temer has told cabinet members to avoid spats with Maia, according to one person with direct access to the president. On Sunday Temer sent his key congressional liaison, Antonio Imbassahy, to have dinner with Maia. The lower house chief agreed to put the government’s priorities on the voting agenda, the person said. Still, Temer expects the DEM and other allied parties to continue distancing themselves as elections approach in order to gauge how voters in their constituencies respond.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.