Brazilian People Calling for Democratic Elections

Tomaz Mefano

This week there were numerous protests involving more than a million people across different cities of Brazil. The protests followed after news that Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, had been accused of involvement in a corruption scandal. An audio tape was released proving that Temer offered a bribe to the former leader of the Brazilian National Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who has been condemned to jail after heading a corruption scheme. President Temer is accused of giving him more than 1.5 million dollars in order to keep his involvement in the case a secret.[1]

The protesters are demanding the immediate resignation of the president and for elections to take place immediately after. However, Temer already has said that he will not resign, and his government has tried consistently to play down the protests, granting the police permission to repress protesters in any occasion, often using violent means. As a result, Brazil has fallen into serious political turmoil.

Temer has been in power since August of last year and was previously the vice president of Dilma Housseff`s government. At the time, Brazil was on the verge of a large economic crisis, from which it has not yet been able to recover. In order to face the crisis, the Brazilian economic elite called for increasingly liberal policy, leading to the working class being forced to make sacrifices and bear the brunt of the failing economy. Although Dilma`s central-left government took clear steps to suit the country’s elite, it seemed that her attempts were not enough. The elites then sought leadership that could better represent and protect its interests. Brazilian conservative political parties, with the help of the mainstream media, took advantage of people`s indignation over the economic crisis, and launched a “judicial cup”, effectively replacing Dilma with the then vice president, Temer.

Since his first day in office, Michel Temer has taken several measures that have been largely unpopular with the masses. Within a very short period of time, the new government had approved the freezing of public expenditure until 2046, eliminated important laws on labour rights and diminished the control of the state company Petrobras over Brazil’s primary oil exploration activities.

These decisions were all made with relatively weak resistance from Brazil’s social movements, which reflects the stagnation of political activism in Brazil for the last 12 years. From the first government led by the Workers Party (PT) on 2002, until Temer`s coup on 2016, the social movements have never been mobilized to fight for their rights. Instead, the government stimulated them to work together with the elite for the sake of the country`s “economic growth”. Thus, when the former president Dilma was replaced by Temer, protests were held but they were never strong enough to destabilize the new government.

However, recently things have begun to change. According to the Brazilian research institute Datafolha, Temer`s government approval has already fallen below 10%, while more than 60% of the population considers it terrible.[2] The loss of credibility of Temer`s government has made way for the reorganization of a political resistance by left wing parties and movements. Several protests have since broken out and on the 28th of April, the workers’ unions were able to organize one of biggest general strikes Brazil has ever had.

Under this circumstance, new unpopular laws, that were expected to be approved, have now been blocked by the opposition. Such is the case of the “social security reform”, in which the government wanted to raise the minimum age for retirement and increase the workers’ pension contributions. Despite launching a large campaign in favor of the reform, the government has so far gathered less than one quarter of the population`s support on the matter, and has faced all kinds of resistance from the social movements.[3]

What can be seen now is how the Brazilian economic elite, which initially sponsored Temer to put forward an unpopular liberal policy, are just realizing that Temer is not quite as capable as they once thought. It was Joesley Batista, one of the Brazilian richest men, and owner of JBS, the world`s leading company in the meat processing sector, who released the audio tape revealing Temer`s involvement in this latest corruption scandal. He, and a large part of the Brazilian elite, have already shown their desire to find another political representative. The question then becomes – who would this individual be and how would the displacement of the president happen?

The Brazilian conservative political parties, in alliance with the elites, will be unable to win the popular vote. Furthermore, they have very little credibility and lack strong leadership. If a new election were to be held today, the leader of the Brazilian Workers` Party, Lula, would likely win, and that is a risk they do not want to take. On the other hand, however, Brazilian leftist parties and broad social movements argue that the only way to resolve this political crisis would be to hold a democratic election. Some parties, such as PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party), have gone even further, demanding the revocation of the laws approved during Temer` government in addition to direct elections.

The political chess currently seen in Brazil has become increasingly complex. Even the American political drama House of Cards, has made reference to the Brazilian political landscape, posting on their official twitter account “Tá difícil competir”, which means “it`s hard to compete with” in Portuguese. The next episode of the Brazilian drama is yet to be seen, but for now at least, more and more people are willing to protest, and the demand for direct elections grows ever stronger.

[1] “Áudio sugere aval de Temer à compra do silêncio de Cunha”, Folha de São Paulo, 25th of May, 2017.

[2] Avaliação do Governo Temer, Instituto de Pesquisa Datafolha, 2nd of May, 2017.

[3] Idem.