THE BLOG

Rebuilding Democracy in Brazil - Five Direct Actions

26/06/2013 10:53 BST | Updated 25/08/2013 10:12 BST
AP

Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff has finally announced her response to the current troubles in the country. She wants to hold a referendum on political reform and create a pact comprising five pledge areas: political reform, fiscal responsibility and extra spending on health, transport and education.

Despite this announcement, protestors have dismissed the actions as lacking any concrete measures. That's no surprise: the problem now is that an effective stalemate has been reached. But protesters want instant results. Offering a referendum and immediately unlocking billions of dollars for public service improvements can't have been easy, but it remains a solution that exists within the rules of established politics.

Even the supporters of president Dilma want to hear something that goes beyond political platitudes. The president needs to find something more radical to offer the people quickly - because revolution is genuinely in the air.

We have had three decades of democracy now, but our political leaders all seem to be wealthy, well connected, or have relatives who know someone on the inside. It shouldn't be possible for a plutocracy to exist where both rich and poor only have one single mandatory vote, but when the poor are disenfranchised and disillusioned, only the wealthy can ever get what they need.

Some form of shock treatment is needed, but calling for president Dilma to be impeached is too much. There is already a system in place to replace unpopular politicians - elections. President Collor de Mello was impeached in 1992, but this was due to evidence that he was a crook, not just an unpopular leader.

What could the president offer to the people to end the disinformation, distrust and endless protest? I suggest five direct actions:

1. A referendum is an idea that should be introduced for all major decisions that affect civil society - such as the controversial abortion law - rather than let it be decided by a cluster of biased politicians.

Brazilian politics is stuffed full of interest groups, particularly evangelical Christians. Nobody would deny any other person their religion, but representational democracy is difficult to trust due to the politicians being associated with a lobby group.

2. Nobody in Brazil trusts the government, or FIFA, over the cost of staging the World Cup. Inviting a team of independent academics to study the event finances, public and corporate sponsorship involved, as well as job and infrastructure creation benefits could produce a real and balanced picture of the pros and the cons of this event to Brazil.

3. Create a new code of conduct for all elected politicians that must be adhered to and agreed with, which should include a focus on transparency. All officials, from town councillors to city mayors to state senators and government ministers would need to back the code.

Here, elected officials would publish details of their earnings, tax returns, company holdings, and their pledges to be easily available to the electorate in their own constituency.

4. Create a new programme of political and civic education for all schools in the country. Every schoolchild from any background should learn about what their local mayor does, what their local representatives do from local politics right up to the federal government in a way that actually involves them.

Teachers could ask children to talk to their parents about a local issue - the quality of the roads or the local hospital - and let them contact their local politicians about a real issue. Democracy can be seen in action - or not - from an early age.

5. The protests in Brazil initially started because of public transport costs. Leaders such as Mayor Haddad of São Paulo are trying to use local budgets to improve local transport, yet São Paulo alone accounts for almost 13 percent of the entire GDP of Brazil. An enormous chunk of the national wealth is created there and in other major cities in the South East.

It's time for the federal government to start writing cheques to the mayors of the big cities, allowing them to roll out metro and light rail systems that would be difficult to fund locally alone.

Proposals such as above address important questions - Where is the money for the World Cup coming from? Why can't I get any representation from people I elected? Why don't the people in Brazil treat politicians as servants? How do we keep special interest groups out of major social decisions? And how can we improve the infrastructure of the country?

I love my country and would hate to see us lose the democracy we fought so hard for. But the democracy we have at present is still under construction. It's time for the people to put on their hard hats and to get to work changing the nation.