What changes with President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election

brasilobserver - Nov 10 2014
Dilma Rousseff had 51,64% of the valid votes, against 48,36% of Aécio Neves (Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

(Leia em Português)

Political reform, renewing economic growth and fighting corruption are all among the priorities of the new government, which will not have an easy life in the National Congress

By Wagner de Alcântara Aragão

Re-elected with more than 54.5 million votes, president Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party) took over in her first public statement after the polls closed, with her mission to address the historical challenges of Brazil. She recognized that some course corrections should be made in her new government and pledged to take appropriate measures for the necessary changes. In her assessment, she said the message of the election was clear: Brazilians want changes and most of them have given her another vote of confidence to lead this process.

After a fierce electoral process – the tightest since the 1989 elections – the first challenge of the incumbent president is to heal open wounds. In her statement on October 26, as soon as the victory was confirmed by the Electoral Court, Dilma Rousseff gave Brazilians a call-to-arms.

“I urge, without exception, all Brazilians to unite in favour of the future of our country. I do not believe that these elections have divided the country in half. I believe it mobilized ideas and emotions sometimes contradictory, but moved by a common sentiment: the quest for a better future,” she said, to further state she will be open to dialogue. “My first word is union. A mature democracy does not mean unity of ideas nor monolithic action, but, first, a willingness  for dialogue. This president is open to dialogie,” the president said.

Political reform

In the words of Rousseff, a priority reform being undertaken by Brazil is the political one. During the electoral period, social movements from different areas fostered, between September 1-7, the Popular Plebiscite for an Exclusive and Sovereign Constituent for the Political System. Nearly 8 million Brazilians voted and 97% of them said “yes” to the proposal to elect a Constituent Assembly which shall be responsible for preparing a draft of the national political reform. During the campaign, Rousseff received social movements and pledged to encompass a pro-reform process.

Re-elected, Rousseff stressed that, under the constitution, it is up to congress to draft the reform. However, she reiterated her commitment to lead a movement to make political reform work. The president advocated the convocation of a plebiscite so that the population define crucial points to change. It is not clear, for now, how this plebiscite would take shape or what exactly it would encompass. But, judging from what was stated in debates, it signals the end of corporate campaign financing, the end of the coalitions in elections to the legislature and implementation of run-off for these positions must be defended by the government.

Combating corruption

Political reform is, in fact, crucial to another challenge to the re-elected president: the fight against corruption. The issue was among the most debated in the election process this year, being extensively explored mainly by opposition candidates in the first round and reiterated by Aécio Neves (Social Democrats) in the second round campaign. On one hand, the opposition tried to paint Rouseff’s Workers Party (PT) as a “corrupt party”. On the other, Rousseff defended herself, saying that in the 12 years of PT governments, all cases of corruption were investigated.

Dilma Rousseff repeated after re-election her campaign promise for the next term: submit to congress projects that toughen punishment for corruption and those that are implicated in it. For her, impunity is the “protector” of corruption. She desires that the practice of keeping campaign money and the unjustified enrichment of public officials to become a crime, setting rules to accelerate the completion of legal proceedings.

National Congress

For both challenges of political reform and the fight against corruption, Dilma Rousseff will have to face another obstacle: the relationship with the National Congress. Although it has lost seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the coalition of parties supporting the government is still the majority in the legislature. However, both opponents and allies elected by the parties theoretically have a more conservative profile. If the last four years Rousseff had problems with the parliamentarians, the next four will be even more difficult.

According to a survey from the Inter Parliamentary Advisory Department (DIAP), which has monitored and analysed the activity of the national legislature since 1983, the congress elected in October is the most conservative of recent times. The caucus agribusiness, for example, managed to re-elect 139 of the 191 existing members and, more importantly, will have the addition of 118 rookies linked to the sector. The block could reach 257 of the 513 deputies. There will also be a significant inflow of retired military and ex-police officers who preach drastic measures in the area of public safety. The group, already being called “safety bench”, will have at least 20 deputies.

In contrast, the direct representation of workers in the congress has fallen. The union bench has shrunk from the present 83 to 46 representatives from next year. “This is the most conservative congress since the return to democracy,” said the political analyst of DIAP, Antônio Augusto Queiroz. “Some achievements of the civilizing process, such as the guarantee of human rights, can be stopped with the election of an extremely conservative bench. It is worrying, especially in a strong employer assault on labour, social security and trade union rights in the congress environment,” the analyst added.

In the Chamber of Deputies, Rousseff’s government could face problems with the main ally party, the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and its vice President Michel Temer. The PT and the PMDB have the largest number of seats in the House and, according to tradition in recent years, have alternated in the presidency, currently occupied by a PMDB congressman, Henrique Alves. For next year, the natural thing would be an agreement of the coalition that drove PT to post.

However, one name can emerge as a candidate: congressman Eduardo Cunha, the federal deputy from PMDB that received the most votes in this election. Current party leader in the House, Eduardo Cunha stood out during the Rousseff government to oppose and complicate the passage of important projects sent by the executive power. The reformulation of the regulatory framework of the Brazilian ports and the creation of the civil mark of the internet are two examples of projects that relied on massive resistance from the congressman of PMDB.


Besides worrying about the partisan political negotiations between the executive and the legislative, the re-elected president has another headache in the late first and early second mandate: to drive the economy back to the growth cycle. Despite important indicators on employment generation and family income, industrial production and the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are unfavourable. The inflation that fluctuates very close to the target limit also makes Rousseff’s government face a difficult test.

In the post re-election speech, Rousseff included the recovery of the economy among eminent challenges for the new term. “I will promote localized actions to resume our growth momentum, ensuring continuing high levels of employment and also ensuring the recovery of wages. Let’s give more impetus to economic activity and sectors, especially the industrial sector and follow rigorously the fight against inflation and advancing the field of fiscal responsibility,” said the president, citing the willingness to again have “dialogue” with society. “I encourage more dialogue and partnership with all the productive forces of the country. Before the start of my next government, I shall continue in this task”.

Rousseff said that she leaves the electoral process renewed and aware of the “responsibility that rests on her shoulders”. She said that the expected popular support at the polls demonstrates there is energy to face the challenges to which she has been delegated. “The affection and love I have received in this campaign gives me energy to go on with much more dedication. Today, I am much stronger, calmer, and more mature for the task you have delegated me. Brazil, once again, your daughter will not flee the fight,” she added.


Reform in politics

What needs to be modified? And who will define the changes: the current congress elected in October or an exclusive constituent assembly? Which points can be brought to a popular plebiscite?

For most of the social movements gathered in the Popular Plebiscite conducted last September, the key to political reform is to end corporate campaign financing. Candidates funded by contractors, banks, multinational agribusiness and other ventures become hostage to the interests of economic power. At the same time, under current rules, a politician who gives up business financing has a smaller chance to win – after all, campaigns with private funds are the stronger ones.

The campaign expenses would thus be borne by the party fund – the  source of public resources. Of course, the campaigns would spend well below the millionaires’ levels of today. There are radical positions that defend exclusively public funding. Others consider tolerable releasing private financing to individuals, provided with limits.

The subject is controversial, as it is the discussion of the form of representation in the Chamber of Deputies. Centre-right parties tend to support the so-called district voting, i.e. each state would be divided into districts and these districts would have their elected representatives. Critics warn that the format of this process would lose the House function of representing different segments of society and become a space of representation of electoral districts.


Re-industrialization, a necessity

Since the 1990s, with the opening of the Brazilian economy, the domestic industry is in a process of disintegration. There are exceptions in some sectors and in some periods – the shipping industry was recovered in the last ten years as well as the automotive and construction industry, which has also undergone significant ‘boons’. As a rule, however, the industry has lost strength in the Brazilian GDP.

For the challenge of driving the economy back to the growth cycle, president Dilma Rousseff has a need to make more effort in re-industrialization. The latest GDP data, available up to press time, show that industrial activity has decreased. In the first half of 2014, the fall of industrial GDP was 1.4% over the same period of 2013.