President Dilma Rousseff’s supporters staged a string of protests in at least 20 states across Brazil on Thursday in response to massive anti-government rallies held over the weekend demanding her impeachment.
Rousseff who is currently serving her second term as president is facing criticism due to a downturn in the economy, and widespread corruption. Her current approval rating according to a recent poll by Datafolha, is at an all time low of eight percent.
“We want to continue with democracy. No to the coup, no to fascism!" said poet Jorge Salomao, 68, attending a rally in Rio de Janeiro called by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT).
Rousseff says the calls for her impeachment are “coup plotting” and has said she has no plans to resign from office.
“Dilma won the October 2014 elections and we’re here to defend that. We’re here to stop the coup that is happening in Brazil, albeit a more sophisticated one than we saw in 1964. We need to teach people to respect the popular will of the country,” Sao Paulo lawyer Dennis Veiga Junior, 54, said.
While organizers claimed a turnout of 172,000 people around the country, a partial police estimate excluding Rio de Janeiro figures put the number of attendees at 72,000, with 40,000 in Sao Paulo alone.
Regardless, the numbers were no match against those who protested against the government over the weekend. About a million demonstrators reportedly marched on Sunday in the third mass protest against the first female Brazilian president.
Brazil is facing its worst economic downturn in 25 years. Inflation is close to 10 percent, the economy is expected to remain in recession, and the Brazilian currency (real) has lost a quarter of its value against the dollar.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, Brazilians’ views on the economy have changed dramatically over the five years Rousseff has been in office.
Those who said Brazil’s economy was doing well fell from 62 in 2010 to 13 percent in 2015. And those who said the economy was doing badly rose from 36 to 87 percent.
Also a major investigation called Operation Car Wash is under way. It’s alleged that, state-owned oil company Petrobras and some of Brazil’s largest construction firms collaborated with fifty current and former politicians in a corruption scheme.
Rousseff was chairwoman of the board of directors at Petrobras for much of the time the corruption is alleged to have taken place. She denies any knowledge of criminal wrongdoing and has been cleared by investigators.
Analysts warn of consequences of replacing Rousseff, saying alternatives are not likely to be any better, if not worse, pointing out that the man calling for her impeachment, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, is under investigation in relation to the Petrobras scandal, for allegedly demanding a $5 million bribe.
“It’s very good that people go out and protest and even call for the president’s exit, but who would come in her place?” asked Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos, speaking to Agence France-Presse.
Investors would also like to see Rousseff remain in office, convinced that her departure could only make matters worse.
“The actual process of how Dilma could be replaced - if she were to be impeached or resigned - would be politically messy and divisive for the country,” Geoffrey Dennis, the head of global emerging-market strategy at UBS Securities in Boston, told Bloomberg. “Even if you have a straightforward transition, there is no guarantee it would make things better.”
Michael Mohallem, a politics expert at the Fundacion Getulio Vargas University, warned that impeachment would be a “bitter medicine with heavy side effects.”
“Although she has been weakened and her party is caught up in the corruption, Rousseff has shown a great deal of independence and she has guaranteed the independence of the institutions,” he said. “These are the traits of a strong democracy.”