By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – After the recesso branco, where parliament continued functioning but no votes were held, lawmakers now have a long list of crucial votes ahead of them on bills prioritized in the wave of mass protests that swept Brazil in June and continues to smoulder. President Dilma Rousseff has declared a “new chapter” for her government, and now it is time to deliver.
In the height of demonstrations, Rousseff promised regular meetings with party leaders to discuss prickly topics and help the ungainly sixteen-party governing coalition work better together.
Ideli Salvatti, Minister for Institutional Relations, said channels for dialogue had been “unclogged” and would lead to a “strengthening of the coalition.”
Congress did not go on full recess because Brazil’s constitution only allows this when politicians have approved the following year’s budgetary guidelines: a vote is expected soon but should have been voted on by July 17th; the main budget should be delivered by August 30th.
Beyond this, the many promises made in direct response to demands by protesters still await lawmakers’ attention, including a bill defining the final destination of oil royalties: the exact division between education and health is still being debated and a vote delayed to August 12th.
The National Education Plan, a bill granting free transport for students, and another making corruption a “heinous crime” – with mandatory jail time and tougher minimum prison sentences – are all keenly awaited. Parliamentarians will also work on a Constitutional Amendment (PEC) that would do away with secret voting by politicians in a number of instances, including in votes on vetoes.
Politicians will also decide on a number of other controversial votes in a mass session on August 20th, when some 96 votes have been scheduled, include whether or not to keep current presidential vetoes for the so-called Medical Act – which regulates doctors’ diagnoses and prescribing of drugs and treatments – and other legislation abolishing the ten-percent penalty on workers’ Length of Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS) in cases of unfair dismissal.
President Rousseff is keen to press ahead with the votes as quickly as possible, to show she is delivering tangible responses to June’s public outcry against the government.
However, the president is still reeling from a dramatic slump in public approval.
Protests have continued, albeit on a far smaller scale, with medical professionals protesting against both the Medical Act and the government’s Mais Médicos program; others have focused their discontent on local state governors, including Sérgio Cabral and Geraldo Alckmin.
Whether protests could reignite to the levels seen in June is unclear, but there appears to be a growing trend towards voicing demands through petitions, particularly after a “popular initiative” to assign more money to health was signed by nearly 2 million people and handed to deputies.
Now the strain on the government has been showing: political commentators say the coalition’s influence has virtually run out due to disgruntled members of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
With extra cash promised to various departments, including transport, health and education, the economy’s weak performance is also putting serious pressure on the government’s coffers. Negative comments from the business sector and empresarios (entrepreneurs) have also intensified, with slow growth and concerns over inflation knocking confidence.
Professor Antony Mueller, an economist from the Federal University of Sergipe, tells The Rio Times that Brazil remains “at a crossroads” and that the country’s economic strategy, which worked when Brazil was ‘catching up’ with advanced economies, is no longer working:
“The protests are symptomatic. Although most of the protesters probably do not know it, they instinctively feel that a new way to conduct politics is needed and that the new way must be entrepreneurial not bureaucratic, free not interventionist.”