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Brazil's Protests Change Political Landscape

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Opinion polls have revealed a significant downturn in the popularity of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, alongside a host of other politicians throughout the country. The administration is visibly concerned about the potential for recent unrest to more seriously undermine support for the government as it struggles with major economic challenges. Nevertheless, Brazilian institutions remain relatively strong, and protests have mostly died down. The size and scale of the protests may, however, have cleared space for new political actors to emerge.

A poll conducted by Brazilian polling firm Datafolha from June 27-28 showed a drop in Rousseff's positive ratings to 30 percent, down from 57 percent in early June. Brazilians are also significantly more negative on the overall economic future of the country.

The changing polls reflect the growing reality in Brazil. Expanding consumer credit and demand for commodities by China drove remarkable growth immediately in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis. However, signs of overheating emerged several years ago, labor rates have risen and general inflation, although still low, is currently over 6 percent. Growth in 2013 is projected to be around 2.4 percent, up from 0.9 percent in 2012, but significantly down from 7.5 percent in 2010.

The government has responded by promoting major infrastructure improvement and improving some aspects of the business environment. However, the manufacturing sector has struggled. A downturn in major consumer markets -- particularly the EU, Argentina and the Untied States -- has coupled with a strong currency and persistent structural inefficiencies to make Brazilian companies uncompetitive in export markets.

Rousseff has been the target of harsh criticism from the business community despite high ratings among the general population in past years. With the onset of the protests, these negative feelings appear to have spilled over. The protests have fizzled out for now, but the wave of unrest in June revealed the deep polarization in the Brazilian population.

But, Rousseff wasn’t the only politician to take a hit to her popularity. Brazilians are increasingly negative toward all politicians on issues of corruption and failing to come through on basic needs like health care. In the lead-up to October 2014 elections, changing public opinion may open up new opportunities for politicians with established credibility and those who are totally new to the scene. Already, speculation is rampant that former Brazilian President Lula da Silva will run in Rousseff’s place at the head of the Labor Party. And non-traditional alternative candidates may emerge alongside Lula, including the president of the Brazilian Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa. Former Green party leader Marina Silva may also stand to gain points for her up-and-coming political group, the Sustainability Network.

At its core, the Brazilian government remains stable. However, the June protests represented a significant political crisis for the Rousseff administration. Efforts to combat corruption, increasing funds for health care and guaranteeing funds for education are all promises that have been made since the protests, but there is no question that the political conversation in Brazil has changed for the foreseeable future. The question now is which parties and politicians will harness the energy released throughout June.

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