Two protest movements, two continents and about 6,000 miles apart, offer important lessons to President BS Aquino 3rd. These are Turkey and Brazil. In recent years, they became incredible economic success stories. Unlike the Philippines today.
Yet, Turkey and Brazil are on the edge, threatened by a popular revolution that started, oddly enough, with two insignificant issues. One was the cutting off of trees in Gezi Park, a rare green area in Taksim Square, central Istanbul, to make way for a mall and a military camp. The other was the raise of state-subsidized bus fares in Sao Paolo by a miniscule 10 US cents, from $1.50 to $1.60, in the main cities of Brazil. Brazilians want their bus rides to be free.
Massive demonstrations erupted even as the sitting governments in Turkey and Brazil were popular, responsive and effective, or so it seemed.
Here in the Philippines, we have a popular President—BS Aquino. I am not sure whether he is indeed responsive and effective. Or not.
The one big mistake of the rulers was that they unleashed a brutal suppression of otherwise peaceful protesters on May 31 in Turkey and on June 13 in Brazil, while planning for mega-projects.
Istanbul is trying to modernize the economy with massive construction projects like the Gezi mall.
Brasilia, on the other hand, is spending $1 trillion for infrastructure project including and stadia to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
From just 50 protesters in Istanbul, the Turkey tumult spread to more than 70 cities. Four have died, 4,000 have been hurt, and 900 have been arrested.
In Brazil, the demonstration that started in Sao Paulo on June 6 against a negligible rise in bus fares has spread to over a dozen state capitals, including Brasilia, the Federal capital.
On June 20, crowds as large as one million (young and old, poor and middle class), galvanized by social media, spilled onto the streets nationwide. The issues exploded to include corruption, rising prices, decrepit schools and hospitals, confiscatory taxation, and something familiar to Filipinos—high cost of and bad telephone service.
Banks and shops have been looted. State buildings, including Congress, have been attacked.
Despite having among the highest tax rates in the world, public services in Brazil are terrible. Workers spend a third of their time commuting.
In power since 2002, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is like Aquino: combative, bullheaded and divisive.
Having won three successive elections, in 2002, 2007 and 2011, Erdogan, like BS Aquino today, thinks he is invincible. He, like BS Aquino, intimidates media which become subservient, along with the military and the judiciary.
Erdogan, like BS Aquino, has become increasingly autocratic. He is on the way to becoming Turkey’s best leader since Ataturk, modern Turkey’s founder just before the protests escalated in early June. Economic growth has averaged 5 percent per year since 2002. Poverty incidence improved from 20.5 percent in 2005 to 18.1 percent of the population in 2009.
In the Philippines, poverty incidence has remained unchanged in the past 12 years, affecting 29 percent of the population.
Says The Economist of Erdogan: “During most of his early years, he inspired hope. Sticking to the IMF prescriptions that he inherited, he rescued the economy from the meltdown it suffered in 2001. In the past ten years GDP per person has risen by 43 percent in real terms, exports have increased nearly tenfold and foreign direct investment has leapt. Turkey is now the world’s 17th biggest economy.” Turkey has a $794.5-billion GDP and a population of 80 million.
Of late though, Turkey’s economic growth has slumped to 2.6 percent with unemployment hovering at 9 percent.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s record at economic development cannot be sneezed at. By most yardsticks, Brazil is a First World country. From 2003 to 2009, 22 million Brazilians emerged from poverty, says the World Bank. With output (GDP) of $2.2 trillion a year, Brazil is the world’s seventh largest economy.
Poverty (people living with US$2 per day) has fallen markedly, from 21 percent of the population in 2003 to 11 percent in 2009. Extreme poverty (people living with US$1.25 per day) also dropped dramatically, from 10 percent in 2004 to 2.2 percent in 2009.
Between 2001 and 2009, reports the bank, the income growth rate of the poorest 10 percent of the population was 7 percent per year, while that of the richest 10 percent was 1.7 percent. This helped decrease income inequality (measured by the Gini index) to reach a 50-year low of 0.519 in 2011.
In 2012, says World Bank, the Brazilian government launched a range of initiatives to reduce energy costs, restructure oil royalty payments, strengthen investment in infrastructure through foreign participation, and reform the subnational value-added tax. Brazil is also reforming mining sharing to give a bigger share to the government.
Yet, protests are threatening the stability of Turkey and Brazil’s sitting governments. Protesters want Tayyip to resign. He has sent in the police and the military to quell the demonstrators with tear gas, pepper spray and plastic bullets (which can blind you). US Secretary of State John Kerry protested the “excessive use of force” by the Istanbul police.
In Brazil, God was once thought to be Brazilian. In 2007, the then president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist who rose from being a shoeshine boy to national leader, wept in ecstasy when Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Lula’s handpicked successor, President Dilma Rousseff, is dumbfounded. She has suspended the bus fare increases. But the protesters sense blood.
By the way, our own DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) will raise LRT and MRT train fares by an unheard of P10, or by 50 percent. There is a nascent signature campaign against it. Knowing how bad the LRT/MRT service is, you should sign up. Who knows, you could spark a revolt.