Friday, 9 September 2011

Public pressure mounting over corruption in Brazil

Across Brazil on 7th September, the country's Independence Day, thousands demonstrated against corruption in the government, which organisers called a “pandemic which threatens the credibility of institutions and the entire democratic system”.

The demonstrations come in the midst of an anti-corruption drive by President Dilma Rousseff. Since she took office in January, four ministers have resigned under pressure over corruption; several others have also been accused of graft, while dozens of lower-ranking officials have been fired or arrested.

Rousseff's campaign has begun to spin out of her control. What began as a series of low-key internal investigations to root out graft in government agencies was picked up by the Brazilian press, and has since snowballed into a nationwide campaign against what is perceived to be a widespread culture of corruption.

The drive is now threatening Rousseff's political position, as well as sparking a growing civic campaign which could leave her vulnerable before the end of her first year in office. Media reports suggest that the effects of the purge are creating speculation that Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, could return in 2014 to replace her again as president.

Since June, Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi, Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci, Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento, and Defence Minister Nelson Jobim have left their posts. The president has been criticised for allowing Tourism Minister Pedro Novais to remain, despite the arrest of many of his senior aides for a scheme to embezzle ministry funds.

The cycle of accusations and counter-accusations – many made anonymously through the media - is threatening the cohesion of Rousseff's governing coalition, with some viewing it as a fratricidal campaign of personal score-settling. Many now believe that Rousseff's Worker's Party will struggle to keep the coalition intact.

The Independence Day marches represent a new phase in the anti-corruption campaign, which has previously been largely confined to the political class. It suggests that the public is no longer prepared to tolerate the patronage-based cliques which have dominated Brazilian politics for years.

The protests place Rousseff in a difficult position. Although many of the demonstrators expressed support for the president's campaign, others were angry at the entire political system – suggesting that she must maintain the momentum or face becoming a target of public anger for not going far enough.

Sources: Financial Times, BBC, UPI, Christian Science Monitor

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

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