Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff Offers National Referendum to Ease Unrest

At the Wall Street Journal, "Brazil's President Offers Referendum":

SÃO PAULO—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for a national referendum on overhauling a political system often criticized as unaccountable and corrupt, unveiling a far-reaching response to two weeks of mass demonstrations that have rocked this South American nation.

Under Ms. Rousseff's plan, Brazilians would vote on whether to convene an assembly to potentially alter the country's 1988 constitution. She announced other initiatives, including a bill to make political corruption a serious felony, rather than a minor offense, and additional funding for health and education.

The plan, announced at an emergency meeting with state governors and city mayors, underscored concern with the near-daily protests that have killed four people, brought cities to a standstill and threatened Ms. Rousseff's popularity. In it, Ms. Rousseff seeks to resolve what many see as the root of a matrix of national grievances expressed by protesters, from the poor quality of public services to corruption.

"This could release enormous political energy and, if done right, could be a way for her to come out on top," said Paulo Sotero, who directs the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "Every Brazilian knows the political structure is completely messed up, and though the initiative to change it is coming from the street, she is showing she is listening and understands it."

By responding to protesters' demands, Ms. Rousseff has adopted a different strategy from the heavy-handed responses of other developing-world leaders who have faced mass demonstrations, such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Much of the explanation lies in the fact protesters weren't targeting Ms. Rousseff explicitly. And Ms. Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla and the country's first female president, still sees herself as a revolutionary in office dedicated to improving governance in a country that shed a military dictatorship in 1985.

In her speech, Ms. Rousseff defended her record, and that of her Workers Party, in power for the past decade. She cited low employment, years of economic growth and promised to leverage the street protests into long-standing changes.

"Everyone knows what the problems are. And we also know about the innumerable difficulties to resolve them," Ms. Rousseff said. "I have encountered since taking office, numerous obstacles, but the energy that is coming from the streets is bigger than any obstacle."
She's a communist. No doubt street protesters will cut her some slack. And should she shower the demonstrators with more social spending, poof!, away go the protests.

RELATED: At IBD, "Brazil's Woes Are the Wages of Socialism."