Neves got his start in politics before he turned 21, tapped by his grandfather, Tancredo Neves, to serve as his private secretary when he held the governor’s seat. Elected president in 1985, the elder Neves fell ill and died before he could be sworn in. But the grandson, of the Social Democratic Party, went on to serve four terms as a congressional representative from Minas Gerais. In 2002, he won the gubernatorial race, implementing a managerial style – dubbed “shock and awe” – that cut spending, lowered state budget deficits and paid off public debts of US$135 million.
Neves, trained as an economist, instituted private-public partnerships before the federal government began the practice. His state also runs Cemig, one of the largest publicly traded energy companies in Brazil,
Neves handily won a second term by a 77 percent margin as voters responded to the improvements in state government. His administrative style has also won the endorsement of lenders like the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, which has loaned millions of dollars for the state’s development projects.
His youth is unlikely to be a liability since Brazil has had young presidents before. The last president who hailed from Minas Gerais was Juscelino Kubitschek, who ordered the construction of the capital Brasilia during his 1956-1961 term.
The biggest roadblock to Neves’ presidential aspirations is his party’s standard bearer: José Serra, the 67-year-old governor of the state of São Paulo. Although former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso – an icon in the party – has called Neves one of the top presidential contenders, the PSDB power brokers appear to favor Serra.
Inside the party, a popularity contest has ensued. It pits Neves, who is single and often surrounded by models and actresses, against Serra, a dry technocrat who was clobbered when he ran for president against the charismatic Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2002. But São Paulo is the most important state in the country and Serra’s approval rating there is around 70 percent.
Serra also wants the presidency. Polls matching Serra against other potential contenders indicate he would win the office by a landslide, even against Neves.
Not that Neves lacks popular support. His approval rating nearly matches President Lula, according to DataFolha.
Serra would take Neves as his running mate, a possibility Neves rejects. Unless Neves wants to switch parties, his option may be biding his time for another four to eight years.
“Aécio is not going to cause a fight between himself and Serra,” said Walder Goes, a political consultant in Brasilia with close ties to Neves and other power brokers.
“The party has chosen Serra to lead them next year and he will be the next president of Brazil, is my guess,” Goes said. “Neves is not going to be president anytime before his 57th birthday.”
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About the Author: Kenneth Rapoza is a longtime Latin American journalist and a frequent contributor to Latin Trade.