Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dilma Proposes Constitutional Convention For Political Reform

Dilma meets with leaders of the
Free Fare Movement
(Source: NYTimes)
report on BBC offers a brief overview of the protests in Brazil, along with a synopsis of the latest proposals offered by Dilma in response to those protests.

As the report notes, Dilma, along with the rest of the Brazilian political establishment, was caught off-guard by the protests. However, in an effort to regain some control over the situation, Dilma has now proposed a plebiscite to determine whether to convene a constitutional convention that would address political reform. The details are unclear, but the proposal itself has already been criticized as violating the terms of the existing Brazilian Constitution.

Meanwhile, Dilma met on Monday with leaders of the Free Fare Movement, which initiated the protests several weeks ago. 

A short article in the NYTimes includes additional information about recent events. 

While Dilma has been criticized by almost everyone for her slowness to respond to the protests, the BBC item gives her credit for attempting to take positive action. The NYTimes article makes the valid point that unlike leaders in almost every other country which has seen massive public protests in the recent times, Dilma is "aiming for a relatively accommodating response to the protests, in contrast to how leaders elsewhere have reacted to major street mobilizations."

The size and the duration of the protests in Brazil have taken everyone by surprise, including most Brazilians. It's tempting for observers to rush to judgment, maybe because the extent of the protests makes us think that we need to come up with broad, sweeping conclusions about what they mean and how the government should respond. 

Some people, both among the protesters and observers, seem to have already decided that the government is incapable of offering a meaningful response, presumably because it is so tainted or corrupt that it cannot possibly be part of the solution. That strikes me as a simplistic reaction, particularly because the demonstrators have taken great pains to make it clear that they are not a political party. 

Therefore, they can not offer a political solution to the problems against which they are justifiably protesting. While it's possible that candidates for public office may emerge from the movement, it seems unlikely, at least as of today. 

So what are the alternatives? Brazilians may criticize their government, but history shows that they will not tolerate anarchy or chaos. Indeed, the people responded with shock and disgust when they saw images of looting and other criminal activities during protests last week. 

We should have a better idea of the political fallout of the protests after new public opinion polls are taken. It's likely that Dilma's popularity will have declined, just because during times of political unrest, political leaders tend to take some of the brunt. If polls reveal a sharp decline, that could signal trouble for her re-election. But then the question will become, who will voters turn to if they reject Dilma?

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