Politically incorrect: Brazil’s clown-elect

Lilia M. Schwarcz – New York Review of Books, 10/14/2010

Brazil is a country given to extremes. It’s a nation that combines rapid technological development with the continuity of popular traditions, urban growth and modernization with long-established rural culture. Such contrastsalso come through in politics. On the one hand, the country is known for its huge voting population of 135 million and its secure and very fast electronic vote-counting system: in this year’s October 3 national elections, all the votes had been counted just five hours after the polls closed—without any hint of fraud or of results being challenged. On the other hand, the candidates get more bizarre by the year. This year’s novelty act was Tiririca, the stage name of Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva—a singer, composer, comedian, and clown. Tiririca recently joined the somewhat obscure Partido da República [PR] and was promptly elected federal deputy with the largest number of votes ever recorded in the state of São Paulo.

In Brazil, voting is compulsory (except for people over 70 or between the ages of sixteen and eighteen), which means that the vast majority of the population has to turn up at the polls or face various sanctions. Thus the only way to express disenchantment is to cast a blank vote or vote for a complete outsider. This might go some way to explaining the surprising choices made by Brazilian voters in recent elections. For example, many pundits were shocked by the failure of leading presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff to win in the first round of voting; she was, after all, the candidate of the Workers’ Party and backed by the immensely popular outgoing president, Lula da Silva, and all the opinion polls had assumed she would be a shoo-in.

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