SÃO PAULO—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff labored to drum up support Tuesday for the sweeping overhaul of the nation's political system she has proposed in response to large public demonstrations against government waste and corruption.Continue reading.
The first-term president called Monday night for a national referendum on whether to alter the constitution to improve government accountability. This was part of a package of proposals to appease an increasingly angry public that has taken to the streets in crowds of as many as a million to protest corruption and deteriorating government services. She also called for earmarking oil revenue for education, hiring foreign doctors to improve health, and other initiatives.
But Ms. Rousseff's proposal met with immediate resistance from some political leaders and legal experts.
The national chairman of the opposition Social Democrats, Senator Aécio Neves, called the referendum an attempt to shift the public focus from "the administration's failed social and economic policies" to the new and difficult-to-digest topic of electoral reform.
The president of the Brazilian bar association, Marcus Coelho, said the referendum was unnecessary and that an existing bill in Congress could be pushed forward to address political reform without a constitutional amendment.
The opposition was so strong that some analysts said they expected Ms. Rousseff to alter her call for a national vote on whether to call a constitutional assembly.
The call for a referendum was seen by some political analysts as an attempt to use the protest movement to push Congress into action on reform.
"Congress hasn't understood what's happening on the streets," said David Fleischer, a professor of political science at the University of Brasília. "The president wanted to take a step forward," but she is taking a big risk that could backfire if Congress blocks the move, he said.
It appeared that Ms. Rousseff's call for action already has had some impact. Congressional leaders agreed to vote—as early as Tuesday night— on a series of reform measures that have languished in the corridors of power for months. Congressional leaders also proposed pushing forward with existing legislation on political overhaul, which they said would be faster than the president's call for a constitutional assembly to decide the changes.
The protests began last week and marches continued Tuesday. Despite rainy weather in São Paulo, hundreds of people blocked major roads into the city, while there were protests in several other cities including Belo Horizonte, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, and São Luís, in the northeastern state of Maranhão.
PREVIOUSLY: "Brazil President Dilma Rousseff Offers National Referendum to Ease Unrest."