What’s next for those calling for an end to the Temer government?

Brasil Observer - Oct 10 2016
São Paulo- SP- Brasil- 07/09/2016- Manifestantes realizam ato contra o governo Temer em São Paulo. Na foto, manifestantes sobem a avenida Brigadeiro Luis Antonio. Foto: Paulo Pinto/ AGPT
Photo: Paulo Pinto/ AGPT

(Leia em Português)


With the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, progressive sectors try to take advantage of public protests


By Renan Quinalha and James N. Green

In the months before the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, the main political mantra that most echoed over the throngs of demonstrators who took to the streets to protest against the Workers’ Party government was: “First we take out Dilma, then the rest.” This pronouncement, which seemed to be a relentless declaration of war against the systemic corruption of all political parties, cooled immediately after Rousseff was removed from office on August 31, 2016.

Rousseff left and the “rest” not only remained, but earned greater space in a government, whose first branding was initially personified by a set ministers who were middle-aged, white men, accused of corruption and belonging to the country’s most conservative elites. This new political alignment was an alliance between the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), which had supported the Workers’ Party-led coalition and had offered Michel Temer as Rousseff’s running mate, and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), whose candidates had been defeated in the last four presidential elections.

Temer’s government, now no longer provisional, faces a serious legitimacy deficit. First of all, the broad coalition that united against Rousseff appears too heterogeneous to remain united in the same government for very long. In fact, the first cracks and points of friction among past allies have already begun to appear. Secondly, proposed changes to pension, social security, and labour legislation pushed by the industrial and financial sectors, to cite several examples among many, will have a direct impact on the lives of millions of Brazilians. These threats alone have already motivated opposition to the new government. Thirdly, a substantial portion of the media, including some who openly supported the impeachment, is now criticizing Temer’s government for its many weaknesses and shortcomings. Moreover, the narrative, which characterizes the impeachment as an illegitimate coup d´état, has gained strength in Brazil and abroad, and has served to partially undercut the validity of the new government. Last but not least, in recent weeks large demonstrations in the country’s major cities have mobilized hundreds of thousands around the central slogan “Fora Temer”.

The new president has systematically minimized the actual size of the public protests, and it is still too early to know if they are actually capable of derailing Temer’s government. Still it is impossible not to remember that the June 2013 street mobilizations, which triggered a process of increasing unrest and attacks on Rousseff’s government, contributed to her impeachment this year.

It is true that the 2013 protests were multi-faceted, with agendas that constantly shifted and with component groups seeking different goals. Moreover, a key force behind the largest mobilizations, especially after the 2014 elections, was an anti-Workers’ Party sentiment backed by large sectors of the middle classes and the mainstream media, which weakened the legitimacy of the Rousseff government. Although Temer now faces similar challenges of sustaining his political legitimacy in the midst of an economic crisis, social unrest, and on-going charges of corruption against some of his main supporters, the lingering possibilities of criminal charges against key players in his government (to say nothing of the President) create a level of political uncertainty that has contributed to its instability.

In early September, Fabio Medina Osório, the nation’s Chief Prosecutor who was fired by Temer, went public denouncing the government’s attempts to paralyze the Lava Jato corruption investigations. In addition, there are several other plea agreements between Sérgio Moro, the investigating judge, and influential businessmen in the construction industry, that are awaiting judicial approval. If they go forward, they may very well implicate many in the political establishment that have supported Temer. Moreover, the September 12 resounding 450 to 10 vote in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies that took away the political rights of Eduardo Cunha, the body’s former president, could have unforeseen consequences. Cunha was the architect of the impeachment process against Rousseff and an early ally of Michel Temer. His indignation about feeling “abandoned” by the government seems to be a signal that he is considering carrying out some kind of retaliation against politicians in the Temer government.

Without a doubt, Temer faces multiple problems, and his next moves in this complex game of political chess are full of undefined variables that are embedded in the country’s current political and judicial situation. If he responds to the demands of the PSDB and other more neoliberal sectors of his governing coalition that seek to reduce public spending on social programs (PEC 241) and undo historic protections of the working class, he runs the risk of fuelling mobilizations against his own government. If he does not carry out these changes, he will have failed to keep what seems to have been his part of the deal in the negotiations that led a majority of Congress to support his backhanded bid for the presidency.

And so, what has been the political response to the left-wing challenge to the current government. Some sectors of the opposition movements are taking advantage of public protests that are calling for the ouster of Temer to push for the proposal of immediate direct elections. However, according to the Brazilian Constitution, direct elections can only be called until the end of the year and only upon Temer’s removal from office – be it through protests and his resignation, which is rather unlikely, or a decision by the Superior Electoral Court that is currently analysing the financial accounts of the 2014 elections. If his removal takes place after January 1, 2017, the choice of a president for a “buffer” term until 2018 would have to be made indirectly by a vote in Congress. Either way, immediate elections would likely bring to power a new government quite similar to the current one.

Other protesters are demanding across-the-board universal general elections coupled with political reforms that would expand political participation. But it seems unlikely that the complex negotiations to enact a constitutional amendment setting down new complex rules regarding the formation and practices of political parties or guidelines for the establishment of electoral alliances, among many issues, would be easily approved by politicians. Most of them currently benefit from the ways in which Brazil’s multi-party structure offers ample opportunities to negotiate personal and political benefits for participation in coalition governments.

Thus, the challenge facing the opposition movements to the current government is managing to maintain an on-going intensity of street mobilizations against the proposed rollbacks to many of the social and economic proposals enacted over the last decade. After more than a year of a lengthy and exhausting political process that heightened social tension and augmented polarizations, it is more likely that most citizens will prefer that the country lapse into institutional “peace.” That seems to be what the Temer government is counting on in order to ensure its longevity. It remains to be seen whether a return to normalcy prevails over discontent against the new government and its potentially unpopular measures.


  • Renan H. Quinalha is a lawyer and doctoral candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo. James N. Green is the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor at Brown University. Article translated from Portuguese by Beatrice Bugane.