Tag Archives: plebiscite

Rapid political changes in Brazil

2 Jul

Wow, it’s been incredible to see the rapid changes that have been occurring in Brazilian politics in the last week, to see democracy in action and a political class in panic, wondering how they can respond to (and pacify?) the anger that has been roused.

Some of the unprecedented changes include:

  • Dilma has proposed a plebiscite on political reform, asking the public to give their opinions on the most pressing changes that are needed to take affect before the elections in 2014. She has also proposed bringing in doctors from abroad to improve the healthcare system, spending R$ 50 bn on metro lines in the major cities and spending 100% of oil royalties on education (the latter measure has already been passed by the Senate and Congress).
  • The Senate and Congress have voted to make corruption a heineous crime, increasing the sentence that can be imposed. This proposal had been waiting to be voted on since 2011!
  • A Deputy of Congress has been arrested under order of the Supreme Court. He is the first person to be convicted by the Supreme Court to actually go to prison since the end of the Military Dictatorship in 1988. He was found guilty of embezzling R$8.4 million in October 2010 and sentenced to 13 years in jail but since then has been dragging out his right of appeal (not in prison) and was reelected to Congress in 2011! The Court decided that he was ‘merely procrastinating’ and therefore should be arrested. He had claimed that as a Deputy he could not go to prison, however, the Court ruled that there was no incompatibility with being a Deputy of Congress and being in prison!! However, none of the people convicted in the Mensal√£o scandal have yet to be arrested.
  • Following specific protests against PEC 37 (a constitutional amendment that would make all criminal investigations led by the police) last weekend and early this week a mass u-turn in Congress ended with 430 Deputies voting against and just 9 in favour. The 9 people who voted in favour were rounded-on on facebook and twitter.

However, from the initial wide-ranging demands people have moved on to discuss much deeper political changes that are needed to systematically tackle all of the other problems including health, education and corruption. This represents a much bigger challenge to the political class and their power.

For instance, currently local elections work on Party-list Proportional Representation system but without representation for a particular district. In Rio there are 51 seats for the local chamber from across the city, they are not elected as representatives for a particular neighbourhood such as Copacabana or Barra but are elected across the entire city. Last year there were 1741 candidates from many different parties vying for these 50 seats. People have one vote and the number of total votes for all the candidates from each party are added together and the candidates actually chosen from each party are proportional to the total number of votes for that party. This system is used in many countries but it is open to abuse here. The large number of candidates means that there is no possibility to scrutinize each person’s opinions and background. The system assumes that people’s vote preference is based more on the party than a particular candidate. However, this is proved a lie by some of the tactics and party-hopping by candidates. Parties will often choose celebrities or well-known politicians in order to boost their party’s votes and help other candidates to be elected. Politicians have a tendency to change parties frequently depending on their likelihood of being elected (and possibly the sweeteners offered), the current Mayor of Rio has changed his allegiances enough times to back your head spin. Starting with affiliation to the Green Party he switched to the right-wing Democrats, then the centre-right Brazilian Labour Party, the centrist technocrat Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and finally to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) as Mayor. Also, people wanting to be voted in can target a particular area, such as the favela communities, through the drug bosses or through bribes helping them to be elected via high votes from that particular locality.All these issues makes it very difficult to kick out a particular politician as they can piggyback in with someone else.

Other political reforms suggested include reducing the number of Deputies in the Congress and their costs, removing immunity of prosecution for Senators and Deputies (currently they can only be tried by the Supreme Court whose members they also elect), making campaign financing public or through individual donations, banning the forming of coalitions which allows them the combined TV adverting time even if one of the parties is not putting forward any candidates, integrating all elections to happen every 4 years and introducing a political recall allowing voters to vote out a politician who is not following their election promises.

People I talk to are also worried about the eventual outcome of these protests, with the military dictatorship not far in the back of people’s minds. To me Brazil’s democracy appears strong and to be growing stronger through these events, without the same deep societal divisions and antagonism present in other countries that are being rocked by protests, such as Egypt. Everyone I have spoken to from all political sides supports the overall aims of the protests, with 85% of the public supporting them from recent polls. They are further worried about whether there is any underlying manipulation occurring from either the left or right-wing. With the presidential election coming up next year and with Dilma’s popularity falling as a result of these events, she’s even chose not to attend the final football game after being booed so much that she couldn’t speak at the the opening, it could play into the hands of politicians on either side. On the left-wing there have been increasing calls for Lula to stand again for the Workers’ Party next year, indeed the Workers’ Party don’t appear to vocal in their backing of Dilma. On the other-hand these protests are targeted against the Government and the right-wing parties and newspapers would love to see the Workers’ Party lose power. Both could attempt to integrate favoured ideas or policies through the political reforms. The longer term effect on the parties will depend on what happens over the next few months.

Over the past week the protests have reduced, with a few thousand people marching in Rio every night rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands the week before. Larger protests have happened at the locations of the Confederation Cup games, points of symbolism of the corruption in politics and the poor priorities of the government. However, people generally seem to be waiting to find out how the politicians will react and to give them a chance to respond and put changes into effect. If nothing happens, the people will be back and I imagine with a greater roar. The politicians have a year till the World Cup kicks off to prove that they have really listened to the people.