August 17, 2015 / 4:48 PM / 4 years ago

Despite protests, slog more likely than radical change in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Despite protests by hundreds of thousands of Brazilians against President Dilma Rousseff and ongoing calls for her impeachment, little suggests radical change in Brazil anytime soon.

Demonstrators attend a protest against Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, part of nationwide protests calling for her impeachment, at Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo's financial centre, Brazil, August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

With the country hobbled by legislative gridlock, a lack of viable alternatives to the established political parties and an economic reversal so complete that its currency is trading at a 12-year trough, there are no easy or fast fixes.

“We see no immediate solution, but what else can we do?” said Rogerio Chequer, the São Paulo-based leader of one of the grassroots organizations that organized marches across the country on Sunday.

The latest in a round of demonstrations across Brazil this year came as the economy reels from its sharpest slowdown in three decades, a vast corruption scandal ensnares political and corporate kingpins and a federal audit considers rejecting the government’s 2014 book-keeping.

Together, the problems amount to a giant reversal for a country that, buoyed by a commodities boom and a consumer binge, appeared ready to make a long-sought leap into the league of economic heavyweights when Rousseff first took office in 2011.

They have also left Brazilians frustrated by what they believe is a lack of leadership across the political spectrum. Two-thirds of them want Rousseff’s impeachment, polls show.

But rather than any radical shift in a country now in its 13th year of rule by the leftist Workers’ Party, what many expect is a deep and protracted slog.

“There may be lots of people on the street, but that’s not likely to change much,” says Esther Solano, a sociologist who has studied Brazil’s protests and growing discontent with its political class. “For real change you need new ideas and new leaders and that is totally absent.”

The outcomes Rousseff’s fiercest critics hope for – impeachment or resignation – appear distant, if not impossible.

The auditor reviewing accounting tricks in last year’s budget recently gave her more time to explain the maneuvers.

And no criminal evidence as yet implicates Rousseff in the corruption probe around state-run energy company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, even if she chaired the company when much of the fraud occurred.

Few legal grounds, then, exist to impel a complex impeachment procedure.

Rousseff is undeterred by single-digit approval ratings, the worst for any president during Brazil’s three decades of democracy, saying repeatedly she will not step down.


One way out of the morass would be to steer Brazil’s economy toward recovery. But Rousseff is finding little legislative support for much-needed economic reforms or an austerity package meant to curb public spending as opponents and erstwhile allies leverage her weakness to pursue their own ends.

Though Congress is controlled by the Brazil Democratic Movement Party, an ostensible ally of the government known as the PMDB, the party is ideologically amorphous and its members often work at cross purposes.

After the head of the Senate last week unveiled a raft of proposals meant to support Rousseff’s austerity drive, his PMDB brethren in the lower house said not so fast.

“The system is bicameral,” said Eduardo Cunha, a PMDB populist and avowed obstructionist who heads the lower chamber.

The opposition is as splintered as it is dissatisfied.

The Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, the centrist party that came close to unseating Rousseff when she clinched a second term last year, has failed to speak with a unified voice on issues ranging from impeachment to its strategy for the next elections.

Efforts by the party to align itself more closely with Sunday’s protests did not fuel any noticeable spike in participation or resonance with voters.

“Voters are having a hard time relating to any of the parties,” says Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at Tendencias, a consulting firm in Sao Paulo. “They are all talking past one another.”

Though the recent protests are tepid compared with massive demonstrations in 2013, when Brazilians blasted public spending on the World Cup soccer tournament just as the economy was slowing, they are consistent with a prevailing sense of disgust.

Using social media, coordinated text message campaigns and word of mouth, grassroots groups with names like “Revolted” and “Free Brazil” are channeling the frustration more effectively than established political parties.

People are silhouetted through a Workers' Party (PT) flag as they shout slogans during a demonstration supporting President Dilma Rousseff, amidst nationwide protests calling for her impeachment, in front of the Lula Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil, August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

“Vem Pra Rua,” or “Come to the Street,” the group led by Chequer, a former financier turned communications executive, blared speeches from beneath a giant yellow balloon it hoisted for a march along the Rio de Janeiro shoreline on Sunday.

Followers chanted for Rousseff’s ouster and decried corruption and the stagnation in Congress.

“There is no consensus in the parties or in the government,” Chequer says. “But the politicians must know that there is consensus on the street.”

Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Kieran Murray

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