Although there does not seem to be any anti-PT, anti-Lula or anti-Dilma sentiment among the protesters, their resentment may suggest that they are no longer solely satisfied with the economic and social benefits provided by the PT’s leadership since 2003.Fully aware of this, the opposition – especially the PSDB – allied with sectors of the mainstream press and financial markets are leveraging the negative turn of events to try and undermine the President’s popularity.
In recent months, despite the president’s high approval rating (above 50%), various events have managed to generate a negative atmosphere in Brazil. They include: 1) rumour-mongering surrounding the supposed end of the Bolsa Família welfare programme, 2) inflationary increases 3) the rise of the dollar against the real 4) Dilma’s falling approval ratings 5) The booing of Dilma during the ceremony opening the Confederations Cup. These factors combined with the outbreak of demonstrations opposing the government have created a favourable environment for the opposition, who also have the covert support of the press and the financial markets.
It was not by chance that yesterday, during the inauguration of an exhibition that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the PSDB and 19 years of the Real Plan, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso warned of “discontent” among the population and said this was being illustrated through the protests across the country. He said, “All is not going as well as the government would like to think.” Cardoso stated, “when inflation starts to rise, the people on the street start to get restless” and in his opinion the “thermometer” of this dissatisfaction is inflation.
On the same line Senator Aécio Neves (MG), the likely PSDB candidate for the presidency in 2014, declared that “it is clear that the rose-tinted version of Brazil, disseminated through official propaganda, of a Brazil without poverty, companies setting records for production and the advancement of health and education clearly bears no resemblance to the life of real people.” Another potential candidate for the presidency in 2014, Governor Eduardo Campos (PSB-PE) also sent a message. He suggested that senior government figures “open their ears to society.” In his view, there is a need for a new agenda, an “agenda for the 21st century, which is based on improving the quality of life.”
As a result of the action of her main rivals, President Dilma, her government allies and her supporters were keen to be seen addressing the issue at hand. Yesterday in São Paulo the president met with former President Lula, the Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante, PT president Rui Falcão and campaign manager João Santana. The presence of Santana indicates that the government is already considering the impact of the demonstrations on Rousseff’s popularity.
The strategy of the opposition will be to exploit the negative press to the furthest extent thereby co-opting the force of the demonstrations of the last days to convince the public that the country is experiencing paralysis at a governmental level. For Dilma, former president Lula is essential to help contain the climate of radicalisation, principally due to his extensive union experience. The idea is to use his experience to help avoid a scenario that would be detrimental for the government in the 2014 elections.
Another important player in this process will be the PMDB, especially the vice-president, Michel Temer, President of the House, Henrique Eduardo Alves, and the Senate President Renan Calheiros. Their role as political arbiters will be instrumental in guiding Congress through the resolution of the crisis. As a consequence, Dilma’s dependence on the PMDB will be further entrenched.
• Will force the federal government to put pressure on mayors and governors to use measures to alleviate the demonstrations. According to press reports, the federal government will provide additional help to cities struggling with the costs of transportation
• Could affect the popularity of the president Dilma in the short term
• May assist the opposition
• Could exacerbate the tension between the executive and legislative branches at a federal level
• May generate apprehension in the markets and the wider economy because there is no way to accurately predict the consequences of the demonstrations.
Dilma’s reaction to the demonstrations
Yesterday during the announcement of the new Mining Code, President Dilma spoke about the events that are occurring across the country. In her speech, she said “The great extent of demonstrations yesterday illustrates the power of our democracy, the strength of the popular voice and the civil nature of our people. It’s good to see so many young people and adults – grandchildren, fathers, grandfathers – together with the Brazilian flag, singing the national anthem with pride and saying ‘ I’m Brazilian’ and advocating a better country. Brazil is proud of them. We praise the peaceful character of the protests.” She also revealed that her government is “engaged and committed to social change.” With her conciliatory approach, Dilma is trying to avoid confrontation with the protesters and, if possible capitalise on the support from her support base.
It is also worth noting that, even after the protests in Brasilia, the president continued with launch of the new mining framework despite the demonstration that took place in Congress yesterday. The decision shows that the government continues to function as normal and does not want to be seen as being overly affected by the events of the past week.
However, the president’s trip to São Paulo for a meeting with Lula Rui Falcão, the Aloizio Mercadante, and João Santana has been widely misunderstood. The meeting gives the impression that the president did not know what to do, so she went to consult the former president. The participation of João Santana shows that Dilma is concerned about what effect the demonstrations could have on her electoral prospects. An emergency meeting in Brasilia with authorities linked to the transport sector would have had a more positive impact on public opinion. Rousseff also could also have had an audience with the CDES (Conselhão), which brings together representatives of civil society to listen to their concerns.