Responding to weeks of protests in over 100 Brazilian cities against corruption and government spending, President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress a proposal package on Tuesday, which included a referendum to make the country’s political system more representative.
Even if it passes Congress, the non-binding plebiscite is not expected to take place before September. It would determine Brazilians’ opinions on the current structure of political party funding, the practice of using unelected Senate substitutes, the legislature’s current practice of anonymous voting, and the possibility of moving from a proportional to a representative system in the legislature.
Opposition leaders have cast the move as an attempt to regain popular support ahead of President Rousseff’s re-election campaign, given that her approval rating has dropped 27 percentage points since the protests began in June. Still, 68 percent of Brazilians support holding a plebiscite according to a Datafolha poll released on July 1 that was conducted from June 27 to June 28.
While the protests have ebbed following the end of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, dissatisfaction with health care, education and public transportation systems, as well as high inflation and a stagnated economy, could bring Brazilians back out into the streets.
Some weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that Lima Mayor Susana Villarán was going to lose her job in a recall referendum. The results from March 17 show that Villarán will stay on as mayor after winning a slim majority of the vote.
The effort to recall her was led by the director of the Instituto Peruano de Administración Municipal (Peruvian Institute of Municipal Management), Marco Tulio Gutiérrez and backed by the parties of political figures such as former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio, former President Alan García and prior presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.
A week before the election, the “yes” vote to recall the mayor outnumbered the “no” vote by almost 10 percentage points. The gap between “yes” and “no” votes had been closing in the last weeks of the campaign, but this had not been enough to change the perception that Villarán would be recalled.
However, the results of the recall referendum were a surprise. On March 19, the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (National Organization of Electoral Processes—ONPE) reported that voters had elected to keep Villarán in office. The election data revealed a narrow 3 percent difference between those voting “no” and “yes” to the referendum, but it was enough for Villarán to stay in power.
As widely anticipated, 99.8 percent of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands’ population voted “Yes” in a referendum on March 10 and 11, expressing their willingness to maintain the current political status as a British Overseas Territory. Of the 1,517 votes cast in the two-day electoral process, only three “No” votes were cast. The results were announced late Monday evening by the Falklands electoral authorities, and were celebrated by local residents in the town hall of the capital city of Stanley.
Argentina considers the archipelago—which it calls Las Malvinas—as part of its territory, which was occupied by Britain more than 180 years ago. Following the vote, the chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly, Gavin Short, asked Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to respect the islands’ decision. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called on Argentina to respect the almost unanimous vote which represents “the clearest possible result” and expression of the islanders’ sovereignty.
Despite the results and a 92 percent voter turnout, Argentine officials dismissed the referendum as a British publicity scheme with no legal validity. The Argentine government has tried for years to incorporate the islands to its territory, due to their strategic relevance for international trade and the presence of natural resources such as oil. The results of the referendum confirm that the islands’ 2,841 inhabitants—most of which are British by birth—prefer to retain their British nationality. The Argentine Senate will vote this week on a motion to reject the referendum.
Nearly 2 million Puerto Ricans went to the polls yesterday, and while they could not participate in the U.S. presidential election, residents of the U.S. territory opted for statehood in a non-binding referendum. Voters on the island also elected the pro-Commonwealth candidate Alejandro García Padilla as the new governor of the island.
The first question on the two-part referendum asked voters if they wanted to change their political status with the United States. Nearly 54 percent (992,374) chose not to continue their 114-year-old relationship with the United States, while 46 percent (786,749) favored the status quo of the island remaining a territory. The second question was geared toward those who favored a change in status and asked voters to choose between three options—U.S. statehood, independence or “sovereign free association.” Sixty-one percent opted for statehood.
Under the current status of Free Associated State (Estado Libre Asociado—ELA) residents of Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and only have one non-voting representative in Congress. However, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. The status of Free Associated State grants a certain degree of autonomy to the island, but restricts its residents from becoming involved in topics such as security, trade and diplomatic relations, among others.
But the future of Puerto Rico also depends on who governs the island. While Governor Luis Fortuño supports Puerto Rico’s incorporation as the 51st state, Governor-elect Alejandro García Padilla advocates maintaining the status quo. García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrático—PPD) was elected with 48 percent (870,005 votes) support, while Fortuño of the New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista) received 47 percent (855,325) of the votes.
An election call in the province of Québec is making federalists in Ottawa very jumpy. The most powerful pro-independence party in Québec, le Parti Québécois (PQ), is vowing to make a comeback. And that spells trouble for Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister. Voters go to the polls on September 4, 2012.
Although short on details, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has vowed to “achieve sovereignty after consulting the population in a referendum that will be held at a time it deems to be appropriate.” No timetable has been set.
That ambiguous statement is meant to shore up her support among pro-independence Quebeckers while at the same time, luring federalist voters fed up with a tired government.
After nine years in power, the reigning Liberal Premier of Québec Jean Charest is seeking a fourth mandate in the midst of a corruption scandal and social unrest that has rocked the province for months. Since the spring, Charest has been battling a student upheaval over university tuition hikes. At the height of the movement, which some observers liken to the May 1968 revolt in France, more than 250,000 people—many harboring the emblematic red square on their clothing—invaded the streets of Montréal.
At times violent, the movement took on a life of its own. Families joined with protesters to attack capitalism, social inequalities, corruption and the Charest government. Protests ballooned following the implementation of Bill 78. The emergency legislation suspended the winter university and college session and forced protesters to give police forces a precise itinerary and eight hours notice for demonstrations involving 50 people or more. Things could get nasty again as classes are set to resume in mid-August.
After making concessions and with no deal in sight, Charest had hinted he would go to the polls to let the people decide between two stark choices: democracy and law and order or “the choice of Madame Marois, referendums and the street.” A strong campaigner, he set the election date for September 4, about 10 days before televised public hearings on corruption are set to resume. The Québec premier is campaigning on his economic record, promising to create 250,000 jobs in the next four to five years, and to balance the books in next year’s budget. He’s banking on his ambitious Plan Nord, a 25-year plan to create thousands of jobs by developing the province’s resource-rich north.
With all these tensions bubbling, it’s impossible to call the election. Just last year, it was unimaginable that Québec voters would toss out the separatist Bloc Québécois on the federal scene and vote en masse for the left-leaning New Democratic Party led by the deceased Jack Layton.
Most observers feel there’s no appetite for Québec independence. This is not to say les Québécois embrace the federal structure with enthusiasm, says Professor Jean-Herman Guay from the Université de Sherbrooke in Québec. Support for the PQ has been declining in the last two elections but for some, especially among francophone voters, the “dream” of an independent Québec state still has some appeal.
A recent online poll by polling firm Léger Marketing for the QMI Agency puts the Parti québécois at 33 percent, the Liberals at 31 percent and newcomer, la Coalition Avenir Québec, at 21 percent. Two smaller pro-sovereignty parties along with the Green Party could eat into Pauline Marois’ support. Voters identified health and lower taxes as their top priorities. Separation only garnered 9 percent.
One candidate running for the PQ actually acknowledged it would be political suicide to push through a referendum on secession. Support for the PQ has been declining in the last two elections. Pauline Marois initially wore the red square in support of the protesters but has since adopted a more prudent approach. One of the former student leaders, Léo Burea-Blouin, is running as a PQ candidate.
Harper’s best bet is to cross his fingers that Charest will win a majority or minority government and thus avoid a political showdown with the Parti Québécois. Unpopular in Québec, he won’t interfere in the election campaign.
Quebeckers seem to be allergic to Harper’s brand of politics and Conservative ideology. After making a number of concessions, such as recognizing les Québécois as nation within a united Canada in his first mandate, resolving a long-standing fiscal imbalance problem between Ottawa and Québec and concluding a sales tax issue, he has made no inroads in Québec. Harper is stuck at five seats out of a possibility of 75 seats.
“None of those measures have been productive,” remarks Guay. “It did not increase his number of seats or his percentage of votes. Mr. Harper has difficulty seducing the Québec electorate.”
While trying to keep a low-profile in the campaign, Harper has his ear to the ground. It was reported by the Canadian Press that he held a secret meeting in June in Montréal with former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to discuss the possibility of a Parti Québécois win and to seek his advice on how to build bridges with the predominantly francophone province of Québec.
As is always the case in Québec politics, the campaign promises to be anything but dull.
The campaign is shaping up to be a three-way race between the Liberal Party of Québec, the Parti Québécois and la Coalition Avenir Québec headed by former PQ minister François Legault. Legault is running on an economic platform, focusing on integrity in government and promising to put the issue of independence on hold for 10 years.
He kicked off his campaign by saying that corruption was the Québec Liberal Party’s “trademark.” Legault has recruited anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau, the former Montréal police chief and former head of the Québec Anti-collusion Unit. Duchesneau has testified that political parties in Québec are being largely funded by “dirty money” offered by companies who expect and get government contracts and political favors in return.
Under pressure, Charest reluctantly set up a commission of inquiry last November to look into allegations of a widespread corruption and collusion scheme related to the awarding of public contracts to construction firms. He has defended his record to clean up corruption in government.
Although not immediately on the radar, the possibility of a third Québec referendum on secession would create “a lot more fear” this time, says pollster Nik Nanos from Nanos Research in view of the risky economic climate. Les Québécois voted against separation in 1980 and 1995. But the razor thin NO results in 1995 rattled then-Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who thought he had lost the country.
In the last 10 days of the 1995 referendum campaign, Chrétien increased his presence in Québec and turned to a much more nationalistic and popular figure to sell Canada to les Québécois, Jean Charest.
Huguette Young is an AQ Online contributing blogger based in Ottawa, Canada.
Brazilian government officials in the Amazonian state of Pará yesterday confirmed preliminary results showing that the referendum to divide the state into three parts was voted down. Pará is Brazil’s second-largest state, covering an area the size of Peru, and one of the most resource-rich. Spurred by economic growth, the referendum on Sunday represents the tension between the rural regions of the state and the capital city of Belém that is home to nearly half Pará’s population.
Nearly 4.6 million voters cast their ballots on whether they agree to the creation of one extra state, Tapajós, and then separately if they agree to the creation of the second, Carajás. Around 67 percent of voters rejected each proposal and the official results were announced by president of the Higher Electoral Tribunal, Ricardo Lewandowski, and the head of Pará's Regional Electoral Tribunal, Ricardo Nunes. Some 1,200 federal troops were deployed in 16 cities across Pará, joining 6,700 police officers to provide security for the vote.
Proponents of the split said that it would benefit marginalized populations in the rural areas of Pará, while opponents claimed that the creation of two additional states would be too costly. Under the breakup plan, a truncated Pará would include the state capital and be left with 17 percent of the territory but 64 percent of the population; Tapojós would have 59 percent of the territory, including large protected indigenous areas and forests, and only 15 percent of the population; and Carajás would consist of 24 percent of the territory and 21 percent of the population. Even if the referendum had passed, it would still require approval by both chambers of Congress and President Dilma Rousseff.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño announced yesterday that he is submitting a bill to the island’s Legislative Assembly that—if approved—would call for a referendum next year to decide the island’s political status. Fortuño’s decision to move forward with a two-part referendum comes in response to President Barack Obama saying in mid-June that Puerto Rico would remain a commonwealth until the majority of islanders voted otherwise. “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”
In a 20-minute televised address, Governor Fortuño emphasized: “We must enable our citizens to resolve the most important and transcendental issue in Puerto Rico’s history, the island’s political status.” He added: “The island’s status is an issue that affects every aspect of our daily lives, including employment opportunities, health services, public safety, our children’s education, and our very rights as citizens.”
The bill—which Fortuño will file today—includes two phases. On August 12, 2012, Puerto Ricans would vote on whether they want to change the status of the island. If the majority of voters approve some type of change, Puerto Ricans would then decide on Election Day (November 6, 2012) among three non-territorial status alternatives: statehood, independence or sovereign free association. A free sovereign association would be an improved version of the current commonwealth status; similar to the territories of the United States of Palau or Marshall Islands.
Governor Fortuño and Puerto Rico’s representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, have already sought to change the island’s political status with the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009. It passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a strong majority but did not succeed in the Senate.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega proposed a referendum on Tuesday that would demand that the U.S. government pay $17 billion in damages to Nicaragua for its role in that country’s civil war in the 1980s. President Ortega made the announcement during a political rally in Managua to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 ouster of dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN).
The claim of due damages originated in 1986, when the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces.” It did not specify an amount for the indemnity. The administration of then-President Ronald Reagan blocked the ruling from being implemented through its power of veto on the UN Security Council. The charge was later dropped by former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro in 1992, and Nicaragua never received compensation.
While Ortega’s proposed referendum drew support from a left-leaning crowd at the rally, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, an opposition deputy, called the proposal “absurd” and said it would amount to nothing.
President Ortega, who has been in power since 2006, proposed the referendum amid the lead-up to November’s presidential elections, in which he plans to seek a third term.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Leaders from Across Americas Reach out to Chile
In the days since an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile claimed roughly 800 lives and devastated infrastructure, leaders from across the Western Hemisphere have rallied to show their support for relief efforts. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton each traveled to Chile in the wake of the disaster to pledge assistance. Peruvian President Alan García, who has not traveled to Chile in a year due to a maritime-boundary dispute, also visited to pledge humanitarian aid, saying: “We need to strengthen our fraternity, our closeness, and in these moments of need, work toward a true union of peoples.” Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that he will donate half his salary to Chilean and Haitian earthquake relief efforts. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Peru are among the countries sending crucial supplies, such as satellite phones, field hospitals, medical equipment, and blankets.
Access an AS/COA Online resource guide to the Chilean earthquake, with links to maps, images, and additional sources of information.