Goodbye to the Brazilian protests. Now the political aftermath awaits
Posted by Mauricio Savarese
Protesters denied again and again that they were on the streets mainly because the Confederations Cup gave them an opportunity to show their demands. For weeks many of them promised a general strike on 11 July to make themselves heard again. Some said about 30 million would embrace the movement.
The best they got was 10,000 people on the streets of Rio and smaller clusters led by labor unions elsewhere. Not much comparing to the millions that showed their discontent with government in all levels in June. I will take the risk like other colleagues and say we can kiss the big demonstrations goodbye.
At least for the moment.
Now it is time to deal with the political aftermath and the possibility they come back again during the World Cup. I think the first is easier to predict than the latter. There are two main reasons for that: Brazilians tend to be conservative and reelect governments and the World Cup will be a cultural shock that could either empty protests so the real party is not wasted (we shouldn’t forget the Confederations Cup is no more than a small rehearsal) or be emboldened by international presence so they can show there is more about Brazil than football and celebrations. So let me start with the easier part.
I will dig into the second in another post.
Although some have rushed to say President Dilma Rousseff will have a hard time to get reelected next year, that is far from clear. Her popularity dropped incredible 27 per cent in a month, according to pollster Datafolha, in a sample collected in the middle of the gigantic protests. I bet even approval ratings for chocolate, pizza and the Beatles wouldn’t have fared much better in those days. Every politician lost support, which doesn’t mean voters will take bigger risks just because there were protests. The challenge for the opposition is to connect with the streets without any chance of policy-making.
Quite difficult, but now more possible.
This is partly why many Brazilians are against all politicians
The numbers aren’t that terrible for Rousseff either. In the middle of the rage against politicians 30% thought her job was “good” and 43% said it was “ok”. None of her main rivals climbed up because of the demonstrations. Exactly four years ago, when she was the chief of Staff for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, she had 4% in the polls and many said she was a bad candidate — she had never run for any office before. The candidate of the opposition, José Serra, had 35% in the polls. Rousseff won comfortably.
If you look down in history there is even more reason to believe she will be reelected in October next year — just like State governors, who run the police forces that pushed very hard against protesters. Consultants from Eurasia show a strong support for government in Brazil used to be between 30 and 40% from 1994 to 2006. That includes the two terms of Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva’s first. Cardoso got his reelection in 1998 and Lula had his in 2006. Rousseff still has an year to do what she has been doing in the last few weeks: suggest structural changes and show Brazil’s problem is in Congress.
It is in that part that her risks might be bigger for 2014. Rousseff was never fond of politicians. And she is suggesting changes in the electoral system that affect Congressmen directly. When she puts out a plan for a plebiscite for a political reform, she is also saying she doesn’t trust her big and not very loyal base in Congress to do it (that reform has been frozen for decades and Brazil’s political system is a great gateway for corruption). By not trusting her big and not very loyal base, she might lose the support of other political parties. In conciliation-crazy Brazil, a president never does what his party wants — there is a huge coalition to deal with, filled with politicians from all walks of society.
You don’t need to understand Portuguese to understand how professional TV political propaganda in Brazil is
Having a big coalition is important because the more support a candidate has, the more he or she will have of free TV time during the campaign trail. It is an aberration only Brazil seems to have: coalitions get free radio and TV time from Monday to Saturday early in the morning and in prime-time television time, at 8:30 PM. That happens from August to October in the electoral year and it can be extended if there is a second ballot. In 2010, Rousseff had about 10 minutes every day. Serra had seven. In 2006, Lula managed to beat opposition’s Geraldo Alckmin despite having less broadcasting time.
But there is little doubt that lots of Brazilians decide based on that period.
That is what makes Brazilians politics very dodgy. It is impossible to defend a clear right-wing or a left-wing agenda because politicians in government come from everywhere. Rousseff tried to set a more leftist agenda after the protests so there would be more money for healthcare and education. In the beginning Congress seemed to go along with it. But after the streets cooled down, many of the suggested investments were rolled back (some politicians prefer to invest in other more profitable areas). If Rousseff governs without them, she might lose time on TV. If she goes along, the calls from the street might return even louder.
It is a tricky balance. Still, this has been Brazilian politics for almost 30 years. The protests might have been important for a shake-up in Brazil’s political life, but so far it seems the protesters going home will have to lower their expectations for change about the way politics are done in Brasilia. If the economy does worse than the sluggish forecasts of 2% GDP growth for the next few years that could be an extra element to the presidential race. However, the lack of alternatives is self-evident. It is more likely to give Brazil a different version of Rousseff in power for another four years and minor changes in Congress.
For some protesters anti-everything, a backlash seems to loom large.