BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s center-right interim government said on Friday it has the political support for tough measures needed to return the economy to growth and can secure a permanent mandate once leftist President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial is over.
Presidential Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha said the incoming government understood it was only provisional for now and had ordered portraits of Rousseff to be left hanging in federal buildings.
Interim President Michel Temer was sworn into office on Thursday after Rousseff was suspended from office by the Senate for up to 180 days while she is tried on charges of breaking budget rules.
Rousseff, ousted from the presidential palace, took to the offensive, telling foreign reporters in her residence that she had been dislodged by an “illegitimate” and “extremely conservative” government run by only white males who would roll back social advances made by her Workers Party.
Padilha said Rousseff had left Brazil with unprecedented levels of fiscal deficit and public debt, and most Brazilians are aware that hard measures are needed to pull the country out a severe economic recession.
“We have enough support to pass urgent measures through Congress,” he told a news conference following the government’s first cabinet meeting, pointing to the distribution among nine political parties of 23 ministerial posts in a slimmed-down cabinet.
Despite having no electoral mandate, Temer promptly unveiled on Thursday an agenda of liberal reforms - including cuts to public spending and pension reforms - that would swing Brazil to the right after 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule.
To start with, Planning Minister Romero Juca announced on Friday that 4,000 jobs would be cut from the federal government payroll by the end of the year.
Juca said reforms to Brazil’s pension and tax system were crucial to getting public debt under control in the midst of Brazil’s worst economic crisis ever, though he said Temer would avoid the kinds of drastic measures that fueled popular anger in debt-strapped Greece and Italy.
Meaningful pension reform has eluded governments of all stripes, even when they had strong mandates. The pension system costs the state a crippling 13 percent of gross domestic product, more than any G7 nation except Italy.
Putting Brazil on a path to growth again is considered a priority after a crisis brought on by the end of the commodities boom and aggravated by a massive corruption scandal surrounding state-run oil company Petrobras.
Brazilians have taken to the streets in record numbers in recent years to protest against inefficient and corrupt government and they will reward a government that can restore confidence and investment, Temer’s ministers said.
“We are convinced that we are going to do such a good job governing that the government that is provisional today will become definitive before 180 days are up,” Padilha said.
The margin of the vote in the Senate to suspend her, 55 to 22, showed Temer’s government currently has support in Congress needed for a series of tough economic reforms, Padilha said.
A two-thirds vote in the upper house is needed to convict Rousseff and remove her from office permanently. Temer would then complete her term until 2018.
Earlier on Friday, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said the government would unveil tough measures soon to curb a budget deficit that topped 10 percent of economic output last year, possibly including increasing taxes temporarily.
The gaping fiscal deficit cost Brazil’s its hard-won investment grade credit rating last year, further undermining investor credibility in the Latin American nation’s policies.
Experts have voiced concern that cutting public spending and raising taxes could further shrink a once-booming economy, which is on track in 2016 for a second year of contracting by more than 3 percent - its worst performance since the 1930s.
The Workers Party has vowed to organize mass protests against Temer, whom it has dubbed a traitor, and to derail his legislative agenda in Congress.
“We are certainly going to put up fierce opposition to some of these proposals,” Workers Party Congressman Paulo Pimenta said in an interview. He also assailed the new government for not having a single woman in a cabinet of “white men.”
In a sign of opposition to Temer’s government, his Education Minister Jose Mendonça was received with boos by employees protesting the elimination of the Culture Ministry.
Following the most unpopular Brazilian president in a generation, Temer can tap into a widespread feeling that things couldn’t get any worse.
“I think they can improve things, but it won’t be easy because the crisis is so huge,” said street vendor Marcelo Matos, 34 , who lives in one of Sao Paulo’s largest slums.
“Whatever they do for Brazil will restore people’s faith and they will have support. We don’t have any alternative today.”
Additional reporting by Brad Brooks, Leo Goy and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, Brad; Haynes and Cesar Bianconi in Sao Paulo; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Mary Milliken