Brazil leader readies reforms package to defuse unrest

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gestures during a press conference at Granja do Torto presidential residence in Brasilia on Monday (Tuesday in Manila). AFP PHOTO

BRASïLIA: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff readied a package of political reforms on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) designed to defuse mass social unrest after weeks of protests that have caused her popularity to plummet.

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More than one million protesters have taken to the streets across Brazil since early June, targeting the Confederations Cup to vent fury at the $15-billion cost of that event and next year’s World Cup, rampant corruption and sub-standard public services.

Rousseff, who stayed away from Brazil’s triumph over Spain on Sunday’s final, has been rocked by the explosion of unrest, which has triggered a near 30-point slump in her approval ratings in a matter of weeks.

Brazil’s win on Sunday came as police and demonstrators clashed outside Rio’s Maracana stadium before kick-off, with security forces firing tear gas to quell the violence.

On Monday, the leftist leader chaired a cabinet meeting and said she would forward her political reforms to Congress Tuesday.

“Tomorrow we are going to send to Congress our suggestions for a plebiscite spelling out the general lines which we view as more important,” Rousseff told reporters.

She said that the plebiscite would not have many questions and would focus on a review of election campaign finance and the current proportional representation voting system.

On a Datafolha poll that showed her approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent since the start of the protests in early June, the president would only say, “It represents a picture of the moment and we have to respect it.”

She vowed not to cut social spending under any circumstances.

The proposed reforms are seen as an antidote to the strong anti-establishment feelings expressed by protesters, analysts say.

Rousseff wants Congress to approve the reforms before October, the deadline for it to be implemented in the 2014 national elections.

She has an overwhelming majority in Congress but still will need the support of allied parties in her ruling coalition.

“Our responsibility is to listen to the message [of the streets],” Rousseff said in her weekly radio address.

She reiterated that the plebiscite was part of her bid to join with state governors and city mayors in offering “rapid and concrete solutions to problems of the economy, transport, health, education and politics.”

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