Beyond the Politics: Brazil’s 2010 Election

By Ana Carolina Lessa
Managing Editor
October 4, 2010

Several analyses of Sunday’s Brazilian presidential and legislative elections lack important elements. They have focused on the nominee from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s party, his Chief-of-Staff, Dilma Rousseff’s surprising popularity, but forgotten to mention other equally important, positive and negative dimensions of these elections.

This election is diverse, important, and large. Firstly, two of the top three candidates (Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva) were women. Secondly, this is an extremely large election; two-thirds of the Senate, the whole Chamber of Deputies and state Governors and electorates are up for grabs. And, as voting is compulsory in Brazil, a total of 136 million votes will be cast. This includes a new constituency that has never before participated: the over 3 million Brazilians living abroad.

Brazil is well-known for advances in its voting system, which the country has been using for over a decade. In 1996, the country tested electronic voting machines and became the first country in the world to fully implement electronic balloting. This technological advancement was especially significant for Brazil and Latin America, because these machines eliminated the use of public documents, such as voter registration, which have been considered a source of fraud in the region. Despite questions regarding the security of electronic voting, no frauds were registered so far. The success of this model was so great that Brazil currently lends electronic voting machines to its neighbors, such as Paraguay and Ecuador.

During the upcoming elections, the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) will test new voting machines with digital screens that use fingerprints to identify voters. This new biometric system, which will be tested in 60 cities during this year’s election, will further reduce fraudulent voting.

This election cycle, the country has also seen a significant increase in anti-corruption legislation. This might seem trivial, but this is the first time since Brazil’s military dictatorship ended 30 years ago that corrupt candidates have actually been eliminated from the race. The “clean slate” law, or “Ficha Limpa” in Portuguese, is a significant effort by the Brazilian government to try to tackle corruption by forbidding candidates running for public office that have been involved in corruption charges or allegations. At the beginning of the 2010 election cycle, over 20% of the candidates running for public office were investigated. Not only are Latin American neighbors, like Bolivia, taking note of what Brazil has been doing and will hopefully pursue similar laws themselves, but this could also possibly increase the quality of candidates in Latin America.

However, Brazil is a land of contradictions. Candidate Rousseff was recently caught in an ethics scandal involving her former aide. Despite the magnitude of the scandal (i.e. the amount of money and people involved), according to one poll, 57% of Brazilians were aware of it, but only 12% were actually well informed. The only negative impact in Dilma’s preference rating was among voters in the highest income and education brackets, which means a very small portion of the total electorate. In other words, the elimination of corrupt candidates may go unappreciated by the majority of Brazil’s population as they do not follow news and therefore have little idea of who the candidates actually are.

Finally, the 2010 Brazilian elections will demonstrate the success of candidates with non-political backgrounds. Brazilian elections use an open list system, where a voter can vote on a party or an individual candidate. Given that Brazil has 27 political parties, and most voters do not know to which party they belong, 95 percent of the electorate votes for individuals rather than the party bloc. Despite this fact, these candidates omit and most times hide their party in their political ads. These ads usually contain only their name, picture and voting code number (required to cast your vote). A result of this system of voting has allowed the launch of “exotic” candidates – the BBC has recently called these candidates “wacky”. There are two emblematic examples from this election. In Sao Paulo, one of the parties launched a famous comedian called Tiririca for federal deputy. He is dressed in a clown outfit during his ads and, according to polls, over one million voters, more than any other candidate for that party, feel that it is acceptable to have “another clown” in Congress.

There are also “fruit” candidates. One candidate’s nickname is the “pear-shaped woman”, a 23 year-old model and dancer called Suellem Aline Mendes Silva. Another’s nickname is “melon woman”, the 25 year-old Cristina Celia Antunes Batista. What do they have in common? Not much, apart from a lack of political experience and high results in polls. Let’s not forget the rest of the “whackos”: there are seven sports figures, including soccer player Romario and boxers Popo and Maguila; eight singers; and five TV personalities.

Brazil can be proud of several advances the country has made in terms of their voting system and processes. However, problems still exist and seem to stem from an uneducated or apathetic electorate. If voting was noncompulsory and citizens well-educated, would there be less corruption, greater transparency in political ads, and fewer unfit candidates?

The photo in this article is being used under creative commons licensing by Agência Brasil. The original source can be found here.

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