Leading artists join Brazilian protesters in calling for a new president

World Today

BRAZIL-TEMER-PROTEST-VELOSO Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso performs during a protest against Brazilian President Michel Temer calling for new presidential elections, at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 28, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA)

To the sound of Brazilian popular music, thousands of protesters took over Copacabana Beach on Sunday to demand a presidential election as pressure mounted on the country’s leader to resign amid corruption allegations.

VIDEO: What’s behind the protests across major Brazilian cities?

The protest-concert was called “Diretas Ja,” which translates to “Direct Elections Now.” It featured Brazilian music icons Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento as well as other nationally acclaimed artists such as Maria Gadu, Criolo and Mano Brown.

Amid a dense fog, thousands of people crammed around a stage truck to sing along with the performers and demand President Michel Temer’s resignation between songs by chanting “Temer out! Direct (elections) now!”

“This concert is neither of the right nor of the left,” Wagner Moura, the lead actor of the Netflix series “Narcos” who hosted the event, said, despite a multitude of red union flags representing the leftist Workers’ Party.

“It is for the right of the Brazilian people to choose their next president,” he added before introducing artists on stage.

Temer’s popularity has slumped since he became president a little more than a year ago after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office.

Some Brazilians consider his presidency illegitimate because of Rousseff’s ouster, and many people are angry over his push to pass a series of economic changes, including capping government spending, loosening labor laws and reducing pension benefits.

His standing took a new hit after recent allegations that he endorsed paying bribes to ensure the silence of a former lawmaker who is in prison for corruption. Brazil’s highest court is investigating Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption, based on a recording that seems to capture his approval of the hush money. Temer denies wrongdoing.

If Temer should resign or be forced out, Brazilian law calls for the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies to serve as interim president for up to 30 days until Congress decides who will finish the term that runs through 2018.

“It is legal, but it is not ethical,” Moura said of Congress picking a new leader while polls indicate many Brazilians want any new president chosen directly by voters.

“Morally we have to elect our next president,” said Moura, who helped organize the concert with the support of left-leaning parties and social movements.

According to watchdog groups, around 60 percent of the members of both chambers of Congress are under investigation for various crimes including corruption.

“Congress is in no condition to choose” the next president, said Matheus Araujo, a business administrator who attended the protest with his baby daughter in arms.

The embattled Temer announced changes in his Cabinet on Sunday, switching the transparency minister to justice minister and vice versa. Critics said the move was aimed at putting Temer’s long-time friend Torquato Jardim in the crucial justice minister position.

The concert allowed different generations of protesters to compare the current movement with the 1980s call for general elections when Brazil was under a military dictatorship.

“Back in 1984, I was protesting like this in downtown Rio,” recalled Rosana Bulos, a university professor. “This symbolizes the return of that same hope, that we can achieve things with our voices and without war.”

Story by the Associated Press.