Brasilia: Brazil`s President Dilma Rousseff met with senior lawyers and lawmakers to enlist support for a plan to defuse a wave of mass popular protests by launching sweeping political reform.
Rousseff has proposed a referendum to set up a constituent assembly that could oversee reform and placate the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets in recent weeks to demand a better quality of life.
She also offered to earmark USD 25 billion for public transport to appease anger over high fares and creaking, overcrowded bus and rail systems.
The president underscored the need for increased investment in health and education and urged tougher penalties for those found guilty of corruption -- key demands of the protesters -- but her proposals got mixed reactions.
Rousseff yesterday met Marcus Vinicius Furtado, the president of the country`s Bar Association, to discuss the body`s call for a ban on corporate financing of election campaigns.
Furtado said afterwards that a political reform was possible without establishing a constituent assembly.
"It would mean expending a great deal of energy for something which can be resolved without having to amend the constitution. All that needs to be changed is the legislation on elections and on parties," he added.
Justice Minister Eduardo Cardozo said the government was looking at alternatives to the constituent assembly but would insist on holding a referendum.
"You can`t have political reform without society being involved, this is the condition," he said after Rousseff`s meeting with Furtado.
"There are various ways to bring about (political reform), one is the Constituent Assembly, another is putting questions in a plebiscite," Cardozo said. "The final decision is with Congress."
House of Deputies Speaker Henrique Eduardo Alves also voiced opposition to a Constituent Assembly.
"This House does not want a political reform via a Constituent Assembly, in part because it would delay the process further," he told reporters.
Rousseff was to confer later with Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros, the president of the Supreme Court Joaquim Barbosa and members of the Homeless People`s Movement.
Calheiros voiced support for free transport for Brazilian students, as demanded by the Free Pass movement that spearheaded the protests that led authorities to cancel public transport hikes in several cities.