Brazil Presidency Risks Petering Out as Ministers Jump Ship

(Bloomberg) -- By early April, Brazil’s President Michel Temer will have lost half his cabinet, jeopardizing an economic reform agenda during his last year in office.

A Bloomberg survey found that 14 of the 28 members of cabinet plan to leave the government in the next few months, including the ministers of agriculture, foreign affairs and mines. By law, they must quit by April 7 -- six months before polling day -- to run for elected office. Already three ministers left in the past month and Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles is debating whether to run for president.

Brazil Presidency Risks Petering Out as Ministers Jump Ship

While the rule tends to result in a significant cabinet reshuffle ahead of every presidential election, this year’s high turnover looks exceptional. With Temer unwilling to upset the delicate balance of his governing coalition, the vacated posts will go to the outgoing ministers’ parties, according to a presidential aide who was not authorized to speak on the record. But the substitution of place-holder politicians for established ministers is likely to result in a scant political dividend, while weakening the government prematurely during its final year in power.

"Important political decisions aren’t taken if there’s no minister with sufficient weight in charge," said Juliano Griebeler, a political analyst from the consultancy Barral M. Jorge. "Too frequent changes of ministers means that policies may not be followed through."

Most of the outgoing cabinet members have been in office for only 19 months, the time since Temer came to power following the impeachment of his predecessor Dilma Rousseff.

Other members of cabinet planning to leave office over the next few months include the ministers of communications, education, social development, sport, national integration, environment, health, transport and tourism. Defense minister Raul Jungmann has not yet made up his mind.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi and Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira told Bloomberg that they would leave their posts to run for the Senate by the April deadline.

A push for congressional approval of a controversial pension reform proposal in February is likely to prove the Temer administration’s final piece of major legislation. A corruption scandal last year eroded much of the 77 year-old president’s political capital in Congress. Unpopular austerity measures also helped push his government’s approval ratings into the single digits.

Carlos Marun, the government’s congressional liaison, said the departures were standard for an election year. "The president let all those ministers who will be candidates decide the timetable for their exit and it’s up to each one to decide on the most appropriate moment," he said.

Ahead of the 2014 elections, just nine of then-President Dilma Rousseff’s 39 ministers quit the government in April.

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