INTRODUCTION

Having achieved investment grade status in 2008, Brazil seemed to be on the right track towards reforms that would guarantee economic growth and prosperity. The country benefited from the international commodity super-cycle and achieved a high growth rate in 2010. Social inclusion also improved considerably, poverty and inequality were reduced and the standard of government rose. In 2009 The Economist put the country on its cover with the headline “Brazil takes off.”

In the wake of the 2008 international financial crisis, the Rousseff government embarked on a host of statist measures that deeply affected the investment climate in the country. In Dilma Rousseff’s first term, a reversal of expectations and criticism of corruption within government led to an unprecedented wave of protests and widespread discontent. With a stagnant economy and the prospect of recession, Brazil returned to the cover of the The Economist four years later, but the headline had changed dramatically: “Brazil’s future: has Brazil blown it?”

Putting Brazil back on the right track will require a daunting reform programme for the president, who was re-elected in October 2014 for a second term. Fragmentation in Congress has increased and the presidential party, the Workers’ Party (PT), lost 18 seats. In addition, Rousseff has been sworn in amid a major corruption scandal that affects Brazil’s largest firm, the Petrobrás. Having been elected with a left-of-centre and anti-neoliberal platform, Rousseff has begun to implement a radical policy switch and is facing a formidable political backlash as a consequence. She has seen her popularity sink to 23% in her first month in office, compared to a 42% approval rating in December 2014.

This paper focuses on the constraints and possibilities arising from this reform programme in a political culture shaped by multi-party coalitions, weak parties and strong presidents. Which factors will influence the relationship between political parties, civil society and business groups in the post-election scenario? What lessons can be learned from attempts to reform Brazil in a post-authoritarian era?

Finding What Works: Building Reform Coalitions in Brazil was launched on Thursday, 26 February 2015 at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC