Monday, 13 September 2010

Brazil: pre-election Sunday

Brazil is feverishly gearing up for the elections, which will be held in three weeks time on Sunday 3rd October. On that day the Presidency of the Republic, all 513 Chamber of Deputies seats, and 54 of the 81 Federal Senate seats will be contested, as well the governorships and state legislatures off all 26 states plus the Federal District of Brasilia. If necessary a second round will be held on 31st October, in case the candidate for either President or Governor fails to win more than half of the valid votes.

Brazilian elections are almost ideology-free and have a lot more to do with the individual candidates than with the party they represent. Indeed, the majority of the voters quickly forget which party a candidate stood for because so many of them tend to switch parties as soon as they are elected. Brazilian elections – particularly for the Chamber of Deputies – tend to be won by the more charismatic and popular candidates. This is because the sheer scale of the country, and its 100 million dispersed voters, means that television and advertising are essential for a successful campaign. Because campaigns tend to be expensive fundraising is vital for most candidates.

Hundreds of poor working-class Brazilians are paid to support a particular campaign. While the middle class supporters are more laid back, the poor cluster in groups of 5-10 waving flags and drawing attention to the mobile posters of their designated candidate. Each flag or poster has the candidate’s photograph and name, and a unique number. Therefore, for example, Dilma Rousseff - who is standing for the ruling PT as President Lula’s successor - is 13 while her main opponent Jose Serra is 45. For the much more junior Chamber of Deputies candidates it is a five figure number of which the first identifies the party - so all PT candidates begin with the number 1, the democrats of the DEM with the number 2; PSDB with 4, and so on.

The advantage of this numerical system is that all the voters – many of whom in the rural areas are still illiterate - are able to select their chosen candidate by their number. And then a few hours later – because of the miracle of Brazil’s very sophisticated electronic voting system which uses solar power in the remote Amazon so every vote can be counted and transmitted to the electoral authorities – everyone in Brazil will know if, as expected, Dilma has romped to victory in the presidential contest, and who of the thousands of local candidates has been elected to office.

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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