Brazilians Take to the Streets and Change 2014 Political, Electoral Landscape

Article excerpt

Two weeks in June, marked by massive demonstrations in more than 300 cities, have completely and radically changed Brazil's political, cultural, and social landscape. The events will likely have repercussions on the 2014 elections, when Brazilians will choose a new president, a position now held by President Dilma Rousseff of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).

President Rousseff was the public figure whose image was most tarnished by the widespread street protests in the second half of June 2013. The latest Datafolha poll published in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo showed an unprecedented drop in the president's approval rating. Datafolha, which regularly tracks approval ratings for the president and other government officials, found that Rousseff's approval plummeted from 57% to 30% in the days following the massive demonstrations. The poll focused primarily on Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte, Brazil's largest cities.

The drastic drop in support has led to questions about the PT's political program, with many party members arguing that the PT's presidential candidate in 2014 should be former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

Bus-fare increases catalyst for protests

The immediate cause of the unexpected massive popular demonstrations--which caught political parties, the media, and all institutions off guard --was opposition to fare increases in public transportation--buses, subways, and trains--in the city of Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, a member of the PT, and Sao Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) announced the fare increases--from R$3 (3 reais, US$1.32) to R$3.20 (US $1.41)--in late May; they went into effect June 2.

The first protest against the increases took place on June 3, when members of the Movimento pelo Passe Livre (MPL) blocked a highway in Sao Paulo. Other sporadic demonstrations took place in the next few days but the movement became much stronger beginning on June 11, with a large demonstration in downtown Sao Paulo, the largest city in the country and the center of a metropolitan area of 20 million people.

On June 17, a huge popular outpouring filled the streets of Sao Paulo. The police responded with force, and several journalists were injured. The tone of the media's coverage began to change after that, becoming more sympathetic to the work of the MPL and other groups and organizations that joined in the mobilizations.

From then on, similar demonstrations took place in dozens of major cities. On June 20, the movement reached its peak, with millions of Brazilians taking to the streets. Public buildings were attacked in several cities. A few protesters, without the backing of the MPL and the majority of demonstrators, committed acts of vandalism and were met with harsh police repression. But the police also repressed peaceful demonstrators, bringing increased criticism of the security forces' actions.

A central characteristic of all the demonstrators was that organizations, political parties, and unions, which traditionally bring out supporters for such actions, did not mobilize the people. This time, the demonstrations were spontaneous, with massive participation by primary, secondary, and university students who were mobilized through social networks, particularly Facebook. Several analysts said young people do not feel adequately represented by the country's political institutions. During the protests, demonstrators harassed activists from unions and leftist parties like the PT.

Another important factor was that participation in the cycle of demonstrations increased progressively as the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Confederations Cup was being played in several Brazilian cities. The Confederations Cup is a soccer tournament played prior to the FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Brazil in 2014 and which has been widely criticized for spending billions on new stadiums. …