Wednesday, July 3rd 2013 - 04:43 UTC

Brazil's Rousseff pushes political reform to quell discontent

President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress reform proposals on Tuesday intended to make Brazilian politics more representative in a bid to recoup popularity she lost in a wave of angry protests against the country's political establishment.

Rousseff arrives at a news conference after the ministerial meeting in Brasilia

Making good on a promise in the wake of the protests that rocked Brazil in June, Rousseff asked Congress to hold a non-binding national vote, or plebiscite, to see what Brazilians want changed. In the request, she listed broad themes that she wants to see addressed, including campaign finance reform, an end to anonymous votes by lawmakers in Congress, and a possible shift from proportional representation to district voting.

Rousseff's approval ratings have declined by 27 percentage points in the past three weeks, showing that the recent wave of protests sweeping Brazil poses a serious threat to her likely re-election bid next year, according to a survey by pollster Datafolha published on Saturday.

More than 1 million people took to the streets of Brazilian cities at the peak of last month's protests, fueled by frustration with deplorable health, education and public transportation services, a high cost of living, and outrage at the $14 billion Brazil will spend to host the 2014 World Cup.

The upheaval that paralyzed the country sent politicians a clear message that Brazilians want more effective and transparent government, with an end to corruption.

While the protests were aimed at politicians of all stripes, Rousseff's popularity took a beating and the president has insisted on holding a plebiscite to consult the people.

“It's a fight for more rights, more representation,” she said of the protests on Monday.

While the protests were aimed at politicians of all stripes, Rousseff's popularity took a beating and the president has insisted on holding a plebiscite to consult the people.

“It's a fight for more rights, more representation,” she said of the protests on Monday.

“The people want to participate, that's why we are proposing a popular vote. The people must be consulted,” Rousseff told reporters.

Other issues she suggested the plebiscite address include abolishing unelected stand-ins for senators. Under the Brazilian system, all members of Congress have “substitutes” that can assume their seat if an elected congressman steps down for some reason, such as accepting a Cabinet post. Rousseff also wants the electorate to weigh in on rules that allow lawmakers to be elected with votes from supporters of other parties.

Eighty-one percent of Brazilians supported the street demonstrations demanding changes, according to the Datafolha poll, which also showed that 68 percent of respondents back the idea of holding a plebiscite.

Rousseff's political opponents, however, see the popular vote as a maneuver to distract the country from the real issues of lack of investment in roads, airports, schools and hospitals, and regain support before next year's election.

Senator Alvaro Dias, leader of the main opposition party in the Senate, PSDB, said most of Rousseff's reform proposals - such whether to have public instead of private campaign funding - are dealt with in existing congressional bills. He said a hastily called plebiscite is an unnecessary expense for the nation.

“These are not the priority issues for Brazilians. This is a political distraction,” he told reporters.


The plebiscite also poses a risk to Rousseff. The main ally in her Workers' Party coalition government, the PMDB party, is balking at the idea and would rather see reform drawn up in Congress, which it controls

“This could be a fiasco,” said Andre Cesar, a political analyst at Brasilia-based consultancy Prospectiva Consultoria.

“There is a risk that the vote will not happen. Or worse, this could open a Pandora's box and Congress could decide to debate ending the re-election of presidents,” Cesar said.

Rousseff still has an approval rating just above 50 percent and remains the favorite to win the election in October 2014, though the race now looks more competitive.

Some political analysts believe the plebiscite is not the way to recover lost ground. In their view, Rousseff should keep focus on curbing inflation and resurrecting Brazil's economy, which has been largely stagnant for the last two years.

Smaller protests continue around Brazil, but a catalyst for the massive demonstrations has gone. The Confederations Cup, a warm-up for next year's soccer World Cup, ended on Sunday.

Other challenges exist. Some of Brazil's main labor unions, seeking to take advantage of the tense political climate, are planning a day of marches on July 11 to push their demands, such as a shorter work week. (Reuters)

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1 ChrisR (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 10:51 am Report abuse
The Holy Grail of proportional representation at risk in favour of districts deciding. GOOD!

But it won't happen, politicos ALWAYS resist change, especially if their cosy little jobs and gigantic egos are at risk.
2 Fbear (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 02:42 pm Report abuse
The Globo/Folha/RBS cartel must have rejoiced at this decline in Dilma's popularity, as there is little doubt these “media” have been the driving force behind the discontent. If they had their way, the majority of brasileiros would believe that political corruption began with Lula and is being actively perpetuated by Dilma, and that their precious elite conservatives have hands cleaner than God's. Dilma is the right person for the times in Brasil because she is not afraid of these lies and will do what she thinks is right and best for all of Brasil. Of course people want schools because facilities have been neglected by prior administrations, so the growing middle class is crowding onto the schools, having to attend in shifts to maximize the use of facilities.

Why should the elite care about quality health care since they can go to the United States or Europe to get theirs? So if course, public health facilities are not all they could be - YET.

When a president must fight against a tide of opposing politicians, entrenched for years and with their own nests finely feathered, changes cannot be made in a few short years. Dilma made promises, and now what the protesters need to understand is that she now needs their confidence and the necessary time to get things done. Now that she has responded in such a strong positive way to the demonstrators, and the congress has had to face the music, let's hope Dilma's popularity bounces back, much to the consternation of the “media” cartel.

One must hope that if demonstrations continue, the smart people in the streets will self-police and control the, probably hired, gangsters who create the violence and destruction as not being a part of themselves and recognize the media efforts toward discrediting this strong president as the cynical manipulations of ordinary citizens that they are, for purposes not in the best interest of Brasil.
3 Conqueror (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 04:21 pm Report abuse
@2 Nice to see that Brazil is not immune to the “latin american disease”. Who shall we blame? The press and media. Always favourite as they tend to keep their “sources” cionfidential. And they have “opinions”. Then there's “opposing politicians”. Another favourite as they tend, surprise, surprise, to oppose. Strange how some people in the UK reckon that the current government have had time, in 3 years, to correct 13 years of misgovernment. But you say things need time to achieve. Who is right?

And now another favourite. “control the, probably hired, gangsters who create the violence and destruction” Is there not a foreign government that can conveniently be blamed?

Dilma's been in power for two and half years. How many new schools are being built? How many new teachers being trained? How many new hospitals are being built? How many new doctors and nurses are being trained? Is public transportation being increased? How many new buses, new trains? If public transport doesn't improve, why fare increases?

But then, Dilma's a marxist, isn't she? Marxists don't explain. The “peasants” just have to obey and all will be well.
4 Briton (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 05:48 pm Report abuse
If she don’t watch it, she will go the way of the Egyptian.??
5 Fbear (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 08:10 pm Report abuse
#3 Before you go spouting off as if you know what you're talking about, why don't you come and live here. I am North American, living here for almost 2 years, and NOT in some American compound, but among the ordinary people, and I have seen a number of changes since I arrived that, had they been made a bit earlier, would certainly have made my life easier. And yes, I HAVE witnessed the things the media constantly does to undermine Dilma and her party. I have no dog in this fight, and so can observe from a different point. The simple fact that she is pushing back against the traditional power centers is working to the advantage of all ordinary people here. She may have been a Marxist in her early days against a strongly right wing dictatorship, but her efforts are far from Marxist in their aim and certainly not vindictive. She is doing exactly what she said she would do, attempt to make life better for a greater number or people and they are responding in a positive manner.

Brazilians have the reputation as schemers who are always thinking how to get something from someone else with little effort. Interestingly, as the middle class grows and people are able to get good jobs (5% unemployment isn't shabby) and buy homes and vehicles, they also are concerned about their reputations and want to be thought of as honest and “worthy,” for want of a better word, of their new social positions as more responsible people in society.

I have met any number of Brazilians who have not been long in their new situations and they are considerate, honorable, and hard working because ethey don't want to let people think their strides are undeserved. Maybe the same is not true of people in all of the country, but where I live, it seems to matter very much.

Any political leader whose work is aimed at encouraging the populace to be their own best selves has my confidence. Otherwise I wouldn't continue to live here with no plans to leave.
6 Tik Tok (#) Jul 03rd, 2013 - 09:55 pm Report abuse
#2 #4 - I too am a gringo who has lived in Brazil for over 4 years. I really can't see how you are so politically informed after a couple of years here. You don't think FHC set in motion sound policies which helped Brazil to this day? You don't think that the current party has tinkered but not delivered the real policies to give impetus for the years ahead? Don't get me wrong nothing in Brazil is easy, many political parties all pushing their agendas, and Dilma has shown some good traits (far better than some of the dodgy efforts of her predecessor). But Brazil is sliding into recession real quick and will not right itself unless it makes some hard decisions which will burn votes, however shouldn't a political party in power for the last 10 years understand what's needed for the good of their country, the consumption binge is ending and the investment side has been lacking. The writing is on the wall, the media is doing their job, Brazil does need change. And Dilma needs to make the hard decisions for the good of Brazil in the future. Otherwise next party please. Political parties which are more hand up rather than hand out are needed if Brazil wants to get somewhere in the world.
7 Fbear (#) Jul 04th, 2013 - 12:51 am Report abuse
#6, Probably the same way you think you know after 4 years. I did my homework over a number of years watching conditions in Brasil, and it happens my best friend is a political scientist who lived with my family in the USA for some years of graduate study in public policy analysis and administration. He is no fresh young rich kid with leisure for this kind of thing, but involved and concerned, who paid his dues in public service both paid and unpaid for years. We have talked and read and consulted with politicians and scholars from several parties; even among some right leaning people, the consensus is still that there is something dreadfully wrong with the way people gere get their information and how for the ones that don't pay a lot of attention, Globo loves to lull them with tele novelas and other distractions from the issues that matter so come election time, they simply do what Globo recommends in whatever way they get the message. My Portuguese is not fluent, but is good enough to get more than the drift of stories I read there, and the less than subtle opposition to the current president is not lost on me. Nor is the positioning of Barbosa as a conservative candidate being sold as a humble man who hates corruption. So what? A lot of prigs have risen to high positions but really don't have the best interest of everyone in mind. This being said, believe me, I am no novice in the politics and the details of how things are done in Brasil.

Recession might come, and sadly, consumerism is the American brand, which is a shame. Let's see what happens in the next year . . .Lots of things are new to brasileiros and they also must adjust to new ways of life and living responsibility with any newfound wealth . .. For every John Belushi who ODs on his own stupidity with money, there are plenty of people who learn from small errors and mighy help pull Brasil in the right direction for everyone.
8 Tik Tok (#) Jul 04th, 2013 - 02:36 am Report abuse
Pretty much sums up the state of play....
9 GeoffWard2 (#) Jul 04th, 2013 - 11:01 am Report abuse
Dilma has the capabilities to be a great administrator-president; and this is what the country sorely needs. I have been 'violently' opposed to her in the past (as many here know).

Now, she needs the people to pull on her behalf to overturn the corruptions inherent in the present/historic political classes where they - with impunity and immunity - control and skim-off society.

The 'thinking' people (and there are millions who vote but don't think)might pull away from her. If so, the balances of power and party groupings might never be able to effectively address the corruption issues. This is a time for the people to stand behind this leader, and against corrupt politicians, corrupt party officials and corrupt public administrators.

The prevailing paradigm - of the way Brasil is and can be - is at a pivot-point in history; it can be shifted massively with a little push. The people must be prevailed upon to push in the most effective way; Brasil's future depends on 'thinking' Brasilians, here, now. Globo & Veja must recognise that the larger game is the most important, and that they have a duty to offer such thoughts to 'thinking' and vocal Brasilians.
10 Fbear (#) Jul 04th, 2013 - 08:48 pm Report abuse
#9, Thank you for that testimonial. Anyone who thinks is also capable of changing his mind, LOL. Dilma wants what is best, I believe that many of the past policies that congress has entrenched have hampered the accomplishment that Dilma wants to make, but I trust her judgment not as a leftist or a Marxist, but as a trained and dedicated economist. She has warned the EU and the US about the dangers of austerity, and she has been right most of the way. Spending is important for stimulating the economy. I bought a car before the changes in tax policy and at the time the US was manipulating the value of the dollar in March/April 2012. It was terrible. But much of the problem for consumers is that for so long they have not realized that they can have options, but they must fight for them. Companies dictate prices and quality and say that's the way it is. Until consumers make demands rather than just going crazy with their newfound disposable incomes, things will see changes. As for Dilma's efforts, she will always be hamstrung with veteran politicians, unfortunately, some even in her own party.

For those who are unwilling to give her a change, well they will just reap the consequences if things start to go backward because of their lack of faith and patience.

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