Rousseff faces obstacles in new term

Latin America Press

José Pedro Martins

President proposes political reform to broaden citizen representation, which would affect rural and business interests in the legislature.

resident Dilma Rousseff and environmentalist Marina Silva in close race for the presidency of Brazil. (Photos: PT and MercoPress)
resident Dilma Rousseff and environmentalist Marina Silva in close race for the presidency of Brazil. (Photos: PT and MercoPress)

With 51.6 percent of valid ballots, President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers´ Party (PT) was reelected in a run-off election on Oct. 26. And in the week after, the leader already got an idea of how difficult governance will be in the coming four years, considering that the next National Congress will have a much more conservative composition.

Rousseff garnered 54.5 million votes against 51 million (48.3 percent) cast for Aécio Neves, a senator with the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). It was the most contested presidential election in Brazilian history, in a campaign marked by many changes in voter preferences.

In the first public opinion polls President Rousseff appeared comfortably in the lead, but the margin began to decrease in early 2014, with the advance of candidates Neves and Eduardo Campos, of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).

Campos, former governor of the state of Pernambuco, died August 13 in a plane crash in the middle of the campaign. His running mate, former senator for the state of Acre, Marina Silva, assumed the candidacy and took the lead in polls, beating Rousseff and Neves, who was almost out of the running.

Then there was a backlash from the Rousseff and Neves campaigns to “deconstruct” Silva candicacy, who had shown great inconsistencies in some debates. The result was that in the first round on Oct. 5, Rousseff and Neves took first and second place, respectively, sending them into a runoff.

Strength of social programs
In early polls after the first round, Neves was ahead of Rousseff. Again, a strong reaction followed. The President exhibited and reiterated the importance of the social programs established during her administration and that of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2002-2010), both of the PT.

Those are programs that, according to many international groups, have lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty. According to the National Household Sample Survey, the number of people considered to be in extreme poverty (with incomes less than US$1.25 a day and unable to meet basic living standards such as food, access to clean water and sanitation, housing and health-service needs) decreased by 65 percent, dropping from 15.2 percent in 2003 to 5.3 percent in 2012.

With the economy’s average annual growth rate of 3.5 percent between 2003 and 2013, social inclusion and membership in the so-called new middle class have also increased. An estimated 40 million Brazilians have migrated from the D and E classes to the C class. Meanwhile, Neves highlighted the achievement of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), of the PSDB, as a sharp drop in inflation.

Gradually, Rousseff recovered the lead and in polls close to the election was in front of Neves. Close results were expected, and President Rousseff was reelected by a very small margin. One explanation for her electoral victory was the great performance she had in the Northeast, the poorest region of Brazil and the one that most benefits from the PT’s social programs. Another explanation was the defeat of Neves in his home state of Minas Gerais, where he was governor for two terms between 2003 and 2010.

In her victory speech, Rousseff referred to her greatest supporter during the campaign, former President Lula, who now becomes a strong candidate to succeed her in 2018. The President announced that one of her first acts would be a commitment to political reform. This could occur through a plebiscite or referendum.

That political reform includes a proposal for public funding of parties and campaigns, the revision of the electoral system, the formation of partisan coalitions, the alternates to lawmakers, and the secret ballot in the legislature’s decisions.

Congress, which theoretically would be most affected by the political reform, reacted within a week. On Oct. 28, the House of Representatives reversed a decree signed in May by President Rousseff that established the National Policy for Social Participation that regulates participatory mechanisms and public hearings.

Chamber of Deputies shows strength
For analysts, it was a clear message from Congress that it would not lose control and would not accept profound political reform. Political analyst Antonio Augusto de Queiroz, head of documentation for the Inter-Union Department for Parliamentary Consultation (DIAP), said that new political organizations with representation in Congress, including the Social Democracy, Solidarity, Republican Party of the Social Order, Christian Social Democratic, National Ecologic, and National Labour parties, would not be interested in a comprehensive political reform, including an exclusive Constituent assembly to discuss the political reform.

“To new parties, a reform that would change the current rules of the game would not be of interest,” the DIAP analyst said. In his view, an exclusive Constituent Assembly for political reform could only be implemented under three conditions: with the “commitment of the government,” which could be difficult, because the president-elect will have great difficulty negotiating with Congress; “a strong popular pressure on lawmakers”; and if the new rules are “generous,” and not applied in the subsequent election. And changes to the Constitution, noted De Queiroz, depend on 308 votes in the Chamber of Deputies, “which is never an easy task.”

For philosopher Roberto Romano, professor at the State University of Campinas, political reform will have many more obstacles to implementation. “In our political history, when we want nothing to be changed, we discuss it all the time. And now political reform is being talked about a lot,” he said. Real reform, according to Romano, should begin “with a complete change in the current party structure, and Brazilian [political] parties are anything but democratic.”

In addition to the presidential vote, 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 54 of 81 senators were elected, as were governors of the country’s 27 states.

The coalition that backed President Rousseff’s reelection, called “With the strength of the people” (including the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the Social Democracy Party, the Progressive Party, the Party of the Republic, the Democratic Labor Party, the Brazilian Republican Party, the Republican Party of the Social Order, and the Communist Party of Brazil) won 300 deputy seats. The president’s party, PT, won 70 deputy races, and is still the leading party in the Chamber — however, 18 less than the last term, a slight shift. But there are always disagreements and realignments, according to the issue. Often, interest blocks trump party allegiances.

There will be, in short, a great deal of negotiation over the next four years, with great difficulties in governance. Unless the PT’s social projects are expanded and strengthened even more, and the economy resumes the growth it saw during the Lula administration and Rousseff’s first years, only then would the federal government have consolidated support in Congress. —Latinamerica Press.