The year 2016 delivered a major blow to democracy in Brazil, the seventh largest economy in the world, where a legislative coup ousted democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff, placing her right-wing vice president Michel Temer in power on Aug. 31. But could 2017 prove to be an opportunity for the left in Brazil to regroup and push back against the right-wing tide?
The leaders of the impeachment, themselves facing serious charges of corruption, accused Rousseff of corruption over employing commonly-used financial maneuvers to cover up a budget shortfall.
As soon as she won her second term in office in October 2014, it was clear that one of the main tasks of her Workers Party, known as the PT, was to fend off attempts at impeaching her.
To do so the PT has been accused of implementing various austerity measures and neoliberal policies to appease her conservative rivals, which has risked discrediting the party among its left-wing support base.
“We must keep in mind that former President Rousseff, her party, and her predecessor, Lula, were all part of the political ruling system that supported the pro-finance economic model set in the 1990s,” Daniel Bin, professor at the University of Brasilia, recently told teleSUR, criticizing Rousseff’s appointment of pro-austerity “fiscal hawk” Joaquim Levy as finance minister.
The parliamentary coup, which ended 13 years of left-wing rule in the country, was seen by many as a major defeat for the left in Latin America as socialist governments in other countries are facing challenges from U.S.-backed right-wing opposition.
Temer recently admitted in a speech to business and political elites in New York that the real motivation behind her ouster was the fact that she wouldn't go far enough and as she refused to implement a radical neoliberal economic agenda.
Rousseff’s impeachment, which was supported and orchestrated by corporate media and political elites in the country, serves as a wake-up call for the PT as they seek to elect her predecessor former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who is seen as one of the most popular political figures in the country.
According to a recent poll by Brazil's Datafolha, Lula has widened his lead over the opposition, locking in a position as the clear favorite with 25 percent voters.
But for him to secure the presidency in the upcoming 2018 elections, Lula and his leftist PT will need to spend the next year reclaiming the core of their support among grassroot voters and progressive social movements.
Within months of assuming power, President Temer and his right-wing government have introduced harsh austerity and neoliberal policies in Brazil that are reversing the social progress achieved by the PT with the support of social movements over the past 16 years.
The upcoming year represents a unique opportunity for the leftist party to organize with grassroots organizations, who are desperately in need of representation after the right-wing undemocratic takeover.
It is worth remembering that conservatives in Brazil failed for more than 16 years to secure power through democratic elections and their recent victory came through illegitimate means and manipulation of the constitution.
They continue to be unpopular: 63 percent of Brazilians believe Temer should resign before the end of 2016 to trigger fresh elections ahead of the 2018 presidential race, according to a new Datafolha poll.
Meanwhile, the 2014 presidential candidate Senator Aecio Neves who lost the election to Rousseff, is polling at only 11 percent.
The same poll found that Lula’s closest contender, former ally-turned-rival Marina Silva of the Green Party — who failed to secure a spot in the runoff election in 2010 against Lula’s successor Rousseff, and is increasingly backed by evangelicals — also trails behind the frontrunner with 15 percent.
With Lula running, Brazil's right-wing realizes that victory in the next democratic election is far from assured.
This must be yet another motive for the PT to learn from past mistakes and avoid abandoning the social movements and grassroots supporters who have continuously helped bring them to power over the past decade and half.