Brazil leader readies reforms to defuse social unrest

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was readying a package of political reforms on Monday designed to defuse social unrest after weeks of protests which have seen her popularity plummet.

More than one million protesters have taken to the streets across Brazil since early June, targeting the Confederations Cup to vent fury at the $15 billion cost of that event and next year's World Cup, rampant corruption and sub-standard public services.

Rousseff, who stayed away from Brazil's triumph over Spain in Sunday's final, has been rocked by the explosion of unrest, which has triggered a near 30-point slump in her approval ratings in a matter of weeks.

Brazil's win on Sunday came as police and demonstrators clashed outside Rio's Maracana stadium before kick-off, with security forces firing tear gas to quell the violence.

Rousseff meanwhile scheduled a cabinet meeting on Monday as she prepared to forward her political reforms to Congress.

On Tuesday Rousseff's proposal for a popular plebiscite on political reform -- focused on a review of election campaign finance and the current proportional representation voting system -- will go before lawmakers, a government official said.

The reforms are seen as an antidote to the strong anti-establishment feelings expressed by protesters, analysts say.

Rousseff wants the reform to be approved by Congress before October, the deadline for it to be implemented in the 2014 national elections.

She has an overwhelming majority in Congress but still will need the support of allied parties in the ruling coalition.

"Our responsibility is to listen to the message (of the streets)," Rousseff said in her weekly radio address.

She reiterated that the plebiscite was part of her bid to join with state governors and city mayors in offering "rapid and concrete solutions to problems of the economy, transport, health, education and politics."

Rousseff has been jolted by a Datafolha poll that found that her approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent since the start of the protests in early June.

The governors of Brazil's two richest states, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, suffered a similar sharp drop in popularity, according to the same survey.

In Sao Paulo, the country's most populous and wealthiest state, Governor Geraldo Alckmin of the opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) lost 14 points from 52 percent to 38 percent from June 6-7 to June 27-28.

In Rio de Janeiro, Governor Sergio Cabral, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party which is part of Rousseff's ruling coalition, lost 30 points from 55 percent to 25 percent during the period.

And according to the same survey, the mayors of Sao Paulo and Rio, the country's two largest cities, also saw their respective approval ratings dip.

Despite the setback, Rousseff, who enjoys the staunch support of her mentor and predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, still leads polls for the October 2014 presidential polls although she is expected to face a run-off.

PSDB Senator Aecio Neves, tipped as Rousseff's likely opponent in presidential elections, said the polls reflected "Brazilians' dissatisfaction not just with the president, but with the political class in general, due to the lack of effective responses."

The government has warned that it must prepare for the possibility the demonstrations may continue when Pope Francis visits the country July 22-28 for a major Catholic youth fest.

"The demands have nothing to do with the papal visit. They are directed at our government. So we suppose there won't be major problems," Cardinal Hummes, the emeritus archbishop of Sao Paulo who backs the protests, said in a newspaper interview.