historic moment On June 17, protests against the increase in bus fares took place in several cities across the country. Photo: Camila Picolo

By Maria Victoria Benevides*

"Fhi beautiful party, man!” For the young people who did not experience it and for the forgotten “crowns” – who are now fearful or enthusiastic about the mobilization initiated by the Free Pass – it is worth remembering the political struggle against the civil-military regime installed with the 1964 coup. part of the opposition was organized through social movements, grassroots organizations, unions, churches, the press, professional and cultural associations, universities, the artistic milieu, human rights organizations, matches, encompassing a wide arc from the left to liberals, both of various hues. For the first time in our history, we had effective popular participation in the constituent process (plenaries, local committees, public hearings, millions of popular amendments, demonstrations), which resulted in the current Constitution. And that Charter welcomed instruments of direct democracy, now legitimately invoked.

I want to draw the attention of the current protesters, many of whom express a certain “disgust” for politics (especially due to the parties), to the fact that, although that arduous struggle for democratization, especially after Amnesty, took place at a time of transition from dictatorship to the rule of law, on the way to an institutional rupture, the necessary path of politics was not renounced, with clear objectives and means. In the specific case of the Constituent Assembly, the objective was to participate in the decision-making process, in an organized manner and with adequate and effective instruments, not to give legislators carte blanche. And this was done, given, among others, the advanced chapter on social rights. It is evident that the guarantees of these rights are still precarious, but the decisive step has been taken and the fight continues. Democracy is a process, it is conflict, it is the right of the majority with respect to minorities and diversity, it is participation, it is popular sovereignty in the context of legitimately drafted laws.

Today's mobilization quite rightly wants everything it is entitled to: transport, health, education, housing, security... And it is against everything that it identifies as the politics of parties, of the powers that be, of “generalized” corruption. But of course these people on the streets are doing politics – which is good – but they are losing their way and repudiating political mediations – which is dangerous. Hence the imperative need to reflect on what we, social scientists and jurists, can contribute.

After days of perplexity, President Dilma got off the defensive and resumed political leadership – which is good – and comes forward to promise reform in the representation system and present other daring and controversial proposals – which requires extensive discussion. The initial proposal, to debate with society a Constituent Assembly for a specific topic, is nonsense. The original constituent power is sovereign: it can do anything, starting with revoking the current Constitution. The convening of a plebiscite to approve such a “thematic constituent” is therefore compromised. Faced with legal difficulties, the government itself soon indicated that this was not a good path. Political reform is necessary and can be done through changes in party and electoral law. It is healthy to consult the will of the people. But there's no need to mess with the Constitution like that.  However, there is no doubt that the president has opened a promising path to tackle two crucial issues at this time of crisis: political reform, always called “the mother of reforms” and never decided upon; and the use of constitutional instruments for the direct participation of the people, starting with popular consultations. 

In this regard, it will not be necessary to invent the wheel. There is already considerable debate, in academia, in the legal and parliamentary circles, on the subject. We have already had national referendums and local consultations. Several projects can be released in Congress.   

Since the National Campaign in Defense of the Republic and Democracy, initiated by the OAB in 2004, with the support of several entities, proposals are currently being processed that deal with mechanisms of direct democracy, not as a “usurpation” of the Legislative power, but as an improvement of representative democracy. Among these, I highlight: 1. Constitutional amendment on recall referendum of mandates electives or recall (recently defended by former minister Rubens Ricupero) in the Senate, no 73/2005; 2. Bill on plebiscite, referendum and popular initiative, also in the Senateo 01/2006; 3. Proposal for a constitutional amendment on revision of the Constitution, currently under deliberation at the Federal Council of the OAB. In fact, the most useful way to speed up the decision would be to vote on Bill No.o 4.718, which is in the Chamber on the initiative of the Participatory Legislation Commission, with the constant encouragement of Congresswoman Luiza Erundina. Such a project, like the one that has been in the Senate for a shorter time, aims to make the use of popular consultations and legislative initiative viable, in order to correct the extremely rigid approach of the 1997 regulation, which blocks rather than encourages popular participation.    

The people did not settle down in the “splendid cradle” and get up, as in several other moments in our history. At 70 years old – the age of the “accumulated youth” – I participated in almost all of them. I am convinced that this mobilization of today, however heterogeneous it may be, can favor the exercise of active citizenship. democratic, as well as achieving positive responses from government officials. But it can also pave the way for authoritarian and elitist exits.

Outside politics there is no salvation. Just violence.

*Sociologist and professor at USP

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