Brazil Crisis Prompts Rousseff’s Party to Rethink Future

  • Workers’ Party must reconnnect with its base, a leader says
  • Party faces risk of major electoral losses in October

The leftist Workers’ Party of suspended President Dilma Rousseff must rethink its future as it braces for electoral losses in the wake of damaging corruption scandals and the worst recession in decades, two of its leaders said.

The party, known as the PT, must do more to reestablish ties with its traditional voter base as it gets ready to campaign for municipal elections in October, said Humberto Costa, the party’s leader in the Senate. The voting will occur as Brazil struggles to emerge from a crushing economic downturn that has led to double-digit unemployment.

“The current crisis had led the PT to reconnect with grassroots social movements and unions,” Senator Costa said Thursday. “It now needs to make sure this connection will remain.”

Co-founded by Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Workers’ Party has been dogged by a two-year corruption scandal that landed several of its leaders in jail on charges of illegal financing of campaigns and accepting kickbacks. Police briefly detained Lula for questioning this year, and Rousseff is widely expected to lose an impeachment trial on unrelated charges. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Missed Chance

Still, the country’s largest labor party missed its chance to distance itself from politics as usual and approve tougher rules on campaign finance, Costa said over coffee in the Senators’ lounge in Brasilia.

QuickTake Brazil’s Highs and Lows

“The PT rose as an alternative proposal to the traditional Brazilian political culture, but ended up embracing that same culture," Costa said. "It now needs to move forward and implement deep reforms."

For a look at Rousseff’s latest comments on her presidency, click here.

The PT, which still holds the second-largest number of seats in the lower house of Congress, could suffer one of its biggest electoral setbacks in October since its foundation in 1980. Another senior lawmaker of the party who requested anonymity said she expected considerable losses in most large cities in the south, mid-west and southeast, Brazil’s wealthiest regions.

The most crucial election for the party will be in Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city, where mayor Fernando Haddad of the PT is seeking another term in office, said Costa. Opinion polls show the mayor in fourth place.

In other regions more sympathetic to Rousseff, the impeachment process could help rally traditional PT supporters as many of them see her ouster as a plot by the country’s elites to grab power, said Costa.

In a recent rally in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, a leader of the Homeless Workers’ Movement warned that Temer is only waiting for Rousseff’s impeachment to be approved to strip workers of their constitutional rights, according to a report posted on the PT website.

The Senate will vote by early September whether to oust Rousseff on charges of illegally financing government spending. She and Lula are also under investigation for obstruction of justice in the corruption probe, which they deny, newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported this week.

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