By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The state governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral, announced on Monday, December 2nd that he would step down from office on March 31st, 2014 in order to pursue a campaign for a seat in the country’s Senate in October. The announcement sparked a series of political maneuvers as Brazil’s ruling parties align behind the candidates who will seek Cabral’s job.
“To serve my state, always. The Senate is the house of the federation. That is a question that is not up to me, it is up to the collection of political alliances. I’ll make my name available [for the Senate], so I think that these moves will take place on March 31st,” Cabral said after the inauguration of two Police Pacifying Units (UPP) in the neighborhood of Méier last Monday.
The governor’s announcement came on the same day that a Datafolha survey revealed that his approval rating has fallen to a seven-year low. The study showed that the number of Rio de Janeiro state voters who consider Cabral’s government “excellent” or “good” fell from 25 percent in June to twenty percent in November.
Cabral’s approval rating has plummeted since he was reelected to office in November 2010, when 55 percent of voters approved of his policies. In recent months, the beleaguered Brazilian Democratic Party Movement (PMDB) governor has been the target of anti-government protesters, who made him a symbol of ineffective politicians during large-scale protests in June and who camped out outside his apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Leblon in the weeks that followed.
His government’s response – labeled at times as overly aggressive and at times indifferent – to protests demanding better use of public funds has been heavily criticized. At the height of the crisis over government spending, Cabral came under fire when magazine Veja alleged that he used Rio de Janeiro’s official helicopter on family trips at a cost of R$3.8 million per year to the state.
Even his government’s most successful program, by some account, the UPPs, credited for reducing crime in Rio, have been riddled with rising accusations of police brutality in recent months. Voters who currently deem his performance is “poor” or “very poor” represent 38 percent of the electorate.
“Those in government are always being reviewed. We are going to respect the survey and continue working,” Cabral told reporters last Monday.
Cabral’s intentions to leave the Rio state government in 2014 had already been confirmed by the PMDB president, Jorge Picciani, last August. Cabral’s decision to step down would allow vice-governor from the PMDB, Luiz Fernando Pesão, to gain visibility ahead of Pesão’s own bid for head of the Palácio Guanabara, the seat of Rio’s government.
The current governor’s move will enable him to pursue a Senate seat for the PMDB in October. The decision to remain in power until next year was a concession to the Workers’ Party (PT). The ruling PT, which has governed the state of Rio de Janeiro in partnership with the PMDB for the last seven years, asked Cabral to stay in office until March 31st so that it, too, can secure the candidacy of its own Rio government hopeful, Lindbergh Farias.