December 12, 2016 / 2:28 PM / 7 months ago

UPDATE 1-Brazil's former president Cardoso rules out return -newspaper

4 Min Read

(Adds reports on plan for direct elections)

SAO PAULO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso ruled out a return to the top job in an interview published on Monday, amid speculation he could lead an interim administration if the current incumbent is forced to step down.

Cardoso told O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that politicians needed to take action to address voters' anger over corruption scandals and a struggling economy. In the interview, which was done last week, he said any move to hold elections before current President Michel Temer's term ends in December 2018 "would do no good for the country".

"I am not a candidate," Cardoso, who presided over Latin America's biggest economy from 1995 to 2002 and is credited with seeing the country through a severe economic crisis at the time, told Estado.

Speculation over a possible early vote has risen amid Brazil's harshest recession in eight decades and fallout from a massive corruption scandal involving political kickbacks centered on huge contracts at state firms.

Just short of two-thirds of voters think Temer, who has been linked to corruption in leaked state's witness testimony, should resign by the end of the year, according to a survey released by pollster DataFolha on Sunday.

Temer took over after the impeachment of leftist Dilma Rousseff earlier this year. He pledged to return Brazil to growth by cutting spending and curbing debt growth. Yet, the economy plunged deeper into recession in the third quarter.

Brazil's constitution states that indirect elections are held and Congress determines who becomes president if the office is vacated after two years of a presidential term. Rousseff took office with Temer as vice president on Jan. 1, 2015.

Yet with a sweeping corruption scandal enveloping scores of members of Congress, citizens and some politicians are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow for direct elections even after the two-year mark in a presidential term.

Miro Teixeira, a congressional deputy of the leftwing REDE party, proposed such an amendment in June. He said he would push hard for its passage, O Globo newspaper reported him as saying its Monday edition.

Yet any constitutional changes require the approval of three-fifths of deputies and senators in two votes in each chamber. Teixeira's amendment would have trouble passing - and could not be taken up until after Congress' recess, which begins Dec. 19 and lasts until Feb. 1.

But with the extreme political turbulence and corruption scandal reaching into Congress, some analysts say such a measure could gain traction, especially if Brazilian protesters took to the streets in large numbers to demand it.

Cardoso told Estado that scenario would deeply harm Brazil.

"You just don't keep a democracy running without dialogue, without negotiating," Cardoso said. "The pressure has to ease a little," he noted, referring to rifts among politicians.

Calls to Cardoso's office to confirm his comments went unanswered. (Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Brad Brooks; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Paul Simao)

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