By Milli Legrain, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The next twelve months are set to be a busy time in Brazilian politics, between the international spotlight of the World Cup, and the Presidential elections. Rio de Janeiro State will also choose its new governor, and President Dilma Rousseff’s PT party has already confirmed Lindbergh Farias as their candidate to succeed current governor Sergio Cabral.
The lack of public appearances from the incumbent since June has been telling, with protesters regularly camped outside his home in Leblon and his offices in Laranjeiras’ Guanabara Palace. The “Fora Cabral” (Cabral Out) movement has also been at the heart of the city center protests that have rumbled on since the middle of the year.
It has been a remarkable turn of public opinion for a man who was re-elected with almost seventy percent of the vote in 2010. Earlier this year, the approval rating had dropped to just twelve percent. As university professor Rodrigo Nascimento noted; “Suddenly he went from the biggest success in State politics to a public disgrace.”
With the city buoyed by huge investment plans, improved public safety and a thriving economy, the relaxed Cabral had the air of a man getting things done, moving the state forward and reaping the rewards of his success. Boasting a reorganized budget that drew key business and jobs away from the traditional São Paulo stronghold, the UPP pacification program also claimed to have retaken 233 territories from drug gangs and benefited 1.5 million people.
The first signs of trouble came last year when photos emerged showing the governor dining at an expensive Paris restaurant with his friend Fernando Cavendish. The owner of construction company Delta, Cavendish has been under investigation in relation to the Cachoeira corruption scandal as part of the Federal Police’s “Operação Saqueador”.
By early June hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the city’s streets spurred by the announcement of a second bus fare hike in a matter of months. Fueled by social media, unflattering links to Cavendish, Cabral’s personal use of the state’s US$ 15 million helicopter and even the governor’s wife all became the subject of heated online debate.
Cabral’s Deputy since 2006, Luis Fernando Pezão has been earmarked to succeed as governor, but the improved security picture at the heart of his policy looks increasingly fragile. “The governor hired an extra 6,000 members of the police. When we took office (in 2007), investment in security was at R$2.5 billion. In 2013, it’s R$7 billion,” he argues.
Due to the alliance both at the state and federal level between the PT and PMDB, Cabral’s loss in popularity could have a knock-on effect for the president Dilma Rousseff. His disappearance from the public eye looks likely to pave the way for a resignation in early 2014, and a possible move towards Rousseff’s second cabinet where, according to Veja, he is rumored to covet the post of Minister for Mines and Energy.