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Call for Brazil referendum meets resistance

© AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2013-06-25

President Dilma Rousseff has tried to quell protests with a call for ambitious political reforms, including a referendum on amending Brazil's constitution – a controversial move that already faces opposition from some lawmakers and jurists.

Opposition lawmakers and prominent judges and lawyers swiftly rejected President Dilma Rousseff’s call for a referendum on amending Brazil's constitution on Monday, while smaller protests against corruption, rising living costs and inadequate public services continued throughout the country.

Rousseff, who hails from the left-wing Workers Party, has tried to calm a huge wave of unrest that swept across the South American country last week, bringing out 1 million protesters at its peak on Thursday.

In meetings with protest leaders and with state governors Monday she unveiled plans for billions of dollars in new public spending, stiffer penalties for corruption, and a national vote that could lead to a new constitution – a move that may appease protesters, but which immediately met resistance from some groups.

“Why call a constituent assembly when only a political reform is needed? A constitutional reform could be contaminated by other issues that are not beneficial for Brazil,” the conservative senator José Agripino Maia told Agencia Brasil news agency.

Rousseff ‘deflecting cricitism’

Only lawmakers are allowed to call for a national referendum in Brazil, and some MPs blasted Rousseff for trying to lay blame on them amid the surge of popular discontent.

“[Rousseff] is trying to shift the attention off her, transferring her responsibility to Congress. In the same way she is transferring responsibility to states and cities to further lower fares of public transport,” said Aecio Neves, another senator from the main PSDB opposition party.

Top jurists and legal experts also questioned the wisdom of Rousseff’s proposed referendum.

Carlos Velloso, a former head of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, the equivalent of the Supreme Court in the United States, labelled the move “preposterous,” adding that there was no legal precedent for the kind of constitutional overhaul proposed by Rousseff.

“It’s a measure to fool the population that is demanding reform… the policy changes could be attained by a constitutional amendment,” Velloso told the online Jornal do Brasil daily.

Marcus Furtado, president of the Bar Association of Brazil (OAB), also said he was against calling a referendum on the constitution, telling the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that such an initiative “would waste a lot of energy on something that can be resolved without having to change the constitution.”

However, the head of the OAB chapter in the state of Sao Paulo, Marcos da Costa, said he backed Rousseff’s initiative.

Smaller protests continue

Meanwhile, protests on a smaller scale than those witnessed last week returned to some of Brazil’s cities on Monday.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian dentists led a brief but noisy march behind a banner that read “public health should not be a business.”

Monday also saw 10,000 protesters in the southern city of Porto Alegre, 2,000 outside the state parliament in the northern city of Sao Luis, and 3,000 in the northern city of Belem, with a few scuffles with police and arrests reported.

Leaders of the Free Fare Movement that launched the protests more than a week ago said Rousseff was “unprepared” on the subject of public transport after a meeting with the president on Monday.

The group, which has been active for several years and calls for free public transport, said the president failed to provide details about how the 50 billion reais (€17 billion) she announced for improving public transport would be spent and promised to “continue the fight.”

Students in Rio de Janeiro were meeting on Tuesday to decide what protest actions could be taken in this final week of the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Date created : 2013-06-25

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