Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets Sunday in Rio de Janeiro against the scandal-plagued government of unelected President Michel Temer to demand fresh general elections to choose a new president. But the majority of lawmakers in Brasilia continue to back indirect elections that would see Temer’s successor picked by a vote in the conservative-dominated and corruption-ridden Congress.
“Out with Temer” and “Direct elections now” were among the most popular slogans as demonstrators began to gather at Rio’s Copacabana Beach around 11:00 a.m. local time, Brazil's O Globo reported.
The march, which was followed by a free concert with a number of popular Brazilian musicians under the banner "Rio for Our Rights Now," came on the heels a series of demonstrations pushing for the resignation of the president and early elections to fill the top office ahead of the scheduled 2018 ballot.
The latest wave of protests was sparked by the release of an explosive wiretap that caught Temer on tape apparently endorsing bribes to keep a powerful witness — former speaker of the lower house and chief mastermind behind the ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff, Eduardo Cunha — from testifying in government corruption cases.
In the thick of the fallout from the scandal, Temer’s already deeply unpopular government sparked sharp criticism last week, including from some of his own allies, with a move to deploy the military to crack down on anti-government protests in Brasilia. The decree, which gave soldiers police powers to quash the demonstrations, was swiftly revoked the following day amid widespread outrage.
Meanwhile, as speculation abounds about who could fill Temer’s shoes if he is eventually forced to step down or removed from office through one of the pending court cases against him, a report by Folha de Sao Paulo revealed Sunday that the majority of lower house lawmakers and senators prefer the path of indirect elections in Congress — not general elections — to replace the president.
Brazil’s constitution sets out indirect elections as the next step if Temer is removed from office, which many analysts expect is likely as his approval ratings sit at single digits and seem set to continue to worsen.
Opposition forces in Congress — including the Workers’ Party, or PT, of former Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Rousseff — are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would make direct generals elections by Brazilian voters the way to choose the next president. But it’s bound to be a steep battle in the Congress that, since Temer’s government was installed last year through Rousseff’s ouster, has swiftly approved a number of hotly controversial neoliberal austerity policies, including a reform that freezes public spending in areas such as health, education and other social programs for the next two decades.
While 85 percent of the Brazilian population favors direct elections according to recent polls, Folha found that there isn’t enough support in Congress to give the green light to the reform that would make it happen.
According to the newspaper’s report, 284 of the lower house’s 513 lawmakers and 54 of the 81 senators — 55 percent and 67 percent respectively — are against the idea of direct elections. With a 60 percent vote needed to approve constitutional reforms in Congress, the indirect election camp has the upper hand.
The removal of Rousseff last year in an impeachment process widely condemned as a parliamentary coup marked a conservative grab for power that the country’s right-wing parties couldn’t win at the ballot box for years. Now, with one of the goals of the coup — to shield politicians from facing prosecution for corruption — falling flat, rifts within the right-wing are showing as it scrambles to hold on to power.
But what remains clear is that neither Temer’s PMDB party nor the right-wing PSDB — an ally that has hinted it is ready to turn on the president for a shot at seizing his spot in Brasilia — are not keen on a popular vote to choose the next president democratically. According to polls, that scenario would likely result in the election of the country’s most popular politician, Lula da Silva, as president once again, ending a brief era of conservative revival and harsh neoliberalism that favors the country's economic elite.