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Brazil's political class badly shaken by mass protests

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Brazil's street revolt has badly shaken a political class which had hoped to dazzle the masses with World Cup spectacle but instead finds itself under fire for corruption and waste.

When Brazil, a football powerhouse and five-time World Cup winner, won the right to host next year's tournament, the world -- and the country's elite -- expected a joyous party.

But this month's eruption of popular fury, in which hundreds of thousands of mainly young people took to the streets to denounce price rises and demand investment in health and education, has stunned Brazil's leadership.

The protesters specifically targeted cities hosting the Confederations Cup, seen as a World Cup warm-up tournament, accusing the government of pouring money into sporting events while neglecting a generation left behind.

"They do not represent us," the placards read, and indeed the mainstream political parties and labor unions were nowhere to be seen as boisterous crowds gathered and clashed with police in Sao Paulo, Rio and beyond.

"The entire political class, including the most progressive elements, is dumbfounded as this is a movement which breaks from the traditional mold," said socialist lawmaker Chico Alencar.

"It is a movement of individuals who move from Facebook to the streets."

Before the protests, President Dilma Rousseff had an approval rating above 70 percent, but her chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho admitted that the new protest movement had baffled the mainstream left.

"It is difficult to understand. Even in the good old days, we could not bring 100,000 people into the streets," he said, referring to a time when the leftist ruling Workers Party used to organize popular marches of its own.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's business capital and most populous city where the unrest began nearly two weeks in protest at higher mass transit fare hikes, there is widespread disgust with the political class.

According to a survey by the Datafolha institute, more than three-quarters of the city's population have little or no love for politicians.

Anger over the transport prices and the $15 billion invested in the Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup has morphed into a broader criticism of the failure of state and local institutions.

Mayors, local governments, congress and the federal government are all blamed for failing to deliver better public services after two years of sluggish economic growth and rising inflation.

Thousands of young demonstrators briefly occupied the roof of the Congress building in the capital Brasilia on Monday, chanting: "The people woke up: Either they stop robbing us or we will paralyze Brazil."

"There is dissatisfaction with traditional politics, a gulf between the electorate and politicians, which exists not only in Brazil but also in all the major street rallies around the world," said sociologist Dolce Pandolfi.

Brazil has been governed for more than 10 years by the Workers Party, which emerged during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship from social and labor movements, of Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The protests come in the wake of several recent corruption scandals that tainted lawmakers and ministers from all parties including the Workers Party, which last year was embroiled in a major vote-buying scheme in Congress.

"Major parties have increasingly accepted behavior which they used to reject in the past," said Alencar, who quit the Workers Party two years ago. "There is a connivance with corruption."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130620/brazils-political-class-badly-shaken-mass-protests