Rousseff’s referendum plan for Brazil runs into trouble

BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s bid to defuse a sudden outburst of national discontent by proposing a referendum on political reforms ran into stiff opposition yesterday from politicians and lawyers who questioned its legality.

Tens of thousands of Brazilians have taken to the streets this month in the biggest protests in 20 years, fueled by an array of grievances ranging from poor public services to the high cost of World Cup soccer stadiums and corruption.

The demonstrations against Brazil’s political establishment have jolted politicians of all stripes and clouded the outlook for Rousseff, who is expected to seek re-election next year.

The national capital, Brasilia, braced for more protests today, with some schools cancelling classes. New demonstrations were also expected in Belo Horizonte during a game between Brazil and Uruguay for the Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup in 2014.

In an emergency meeting with Brazil’s governors on Monday, Rousseff proposed a national plebiscite to ask voters whether they agree to holding a constituent assembly to reform Brazil’s political system.

The bold move was seen as an attempt by a popular president to bypass the country’s unpopular Congress with an appeal to the people. Legal experts said that was unconstitutional.

The head of the Brazilian Bar Association, Marcus Vinicius Furtado, proposed in a meeting with Rousseff that political reforms be adopted by Congress based on a popular petition.

Politicians – including the head of the lower chamber of Congress Henrique Alves, a member of the governing coalition of parties – said political reforms should be decided by Congress.

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