Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Brazil's Leader Suffers Setback ; Coalition Fails to Support Her Timetable for Public Vote on Political Overhaul

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Brazil's Leader Suffers Setback ; Coalition Fails to Support Her Timetable for Public Vote on Political Overhaul

Article excerpt

Leaders of Dilma Rousseff's governing coalition agreed to pursue a plebiscite on political reforms but fell far shy of meeting her call to hold one right away.

One of President Dilma Rousseff's signature efforts to temper the huge protests shaking Brazil has suffered a setback, as leaders of her governing coalition agreed to pursue a plebiscite on political overhauls but fell far shy of meeting her call to hold one right away.

The president, whose approval ratings have fallen sharply since the protests began last month, has pushed for voters to weigh in on changes to the tangled Brazilian political system this year, in time for them to go into effect by elections next year. But it falls to Congress to call such a vote.

Michel Temer, Brazil's vice president, emerged Thursday from a meeting with leaders of the governing coalition in Congress's lower house and said that "the majority" had agreed to a plebiscite to be held next year and to go into effect by 2016 at the earliest. "It is always good to listen to the people," he said.

The decision was widely seen as a loss for Ms. Rousseff. "It is certainly a defeat for the president," said Frederico de Almeida, a political science scholar at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. "It is not what she had hoped for. It also shows the difficulty the political class in general is having in responding to the protests."

While the president and other politicians have publicly sympathized with the protesters, making major changes remains daunting, and demonstrations continue to simmer across the country. Still, some changes have come at a surprising pace, including harsher penalties for government corruption and a rollback of transit fares. Legislation to put 75 percent of oil royalties toward education and 25 percent toward health care -- two areas that have been a focus of the protests -- is moving quickly through Congress. …

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