Brazilians took to the streets on Aug. 16 for antigovernment rallies in more than 200 cities, the third round of protests this year as President Dilma Rousseff’s approval rating sank to 8% just eight months into her second term. Marchers in yellow sang songs and chanted, “Fora Dilma”–“Dilma out.” Here’s what’s behind the discontent:
Rousseff has been tarred by the corruption scandal embroiling Petrobras, the state energy giant whose executives are accused of accepting bribes from construction firms and paying kickbacks to politicians for at least 15 years. Although she chaired the company’s board from 2003 to 2010, Rousseff has been exonerated by investigators–but the scandal has paralyzed government and stalled building and energy projects.
Brazil’s 9.5% inflation rate and shrinking economy have forced the government to cut spending and raise taxes, with the hope of avoiding a downgrade to Brazil’s credit rating. Austerity measures and a rising unemployment rate have weighed down the working-class Brazilians who make up the core supporters of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and who are now calling for her ouster.
In addition to demonstrations, polls say two-thirds of Brazilians want Rousseff impeached. But the President’s head is unlikely to roll; she is not accused of any illegal activity, and the person who could trigger proceedings, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, is himself implicated in the scandal. Analysts warn that a constitutional crisis could further strain Brazil’s economy, and there are no viable alternatives waiting in the wings. “Even those who want her out will in the end prefer to keep a weak President,” said Brazil expert Kenneth Maxwell.
This appears in the August 31, 2015 issue of TIME.
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