Wacky election candidates reveal problems at heart of Brazil politics

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Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, or Tiririca
Image caption,
Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva is expected to be voted in by more than a million people

"What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don't know. But vote for me and I will find out for you."

This is one of the political slogans of a man who is expected to enter the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, in the general election on 3 October with the backing of more than a million voters.

If the phrase sounds like some sort of joke, perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that this particular candidate is a professional clown.

Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, or Tiririca as he is known, started working in a circus at the age of eight in the impoverished north-eastern state of Ceara, and is now a TV comedian.

Like Tiririca - which means grumpy - dozens of figures from Brazilian sport and showbusiness C-list are fighting for one of the Chamber's 513 seats, alongside experienced politicians, members of longstanding political clans and complete newcomers.

In all there are more than 6,000 candidates from 27 parties.

Another candidate who is predicted to win a landslide victory is the ex-footballer Romario, hero of Brazil's 1994 World Cup victory.

He is running for office representing his home state of Rio de Janeiro and hopes to work to "keep children off crack and other drugs".

"As a kid growing up in a poor community, I got tired of politicians visiting us and promising improvements that never happened. I realised that I have to be the one who get things done," Romario tells the BBC.

Social media impact

While the mainstream media focuses on a presidential run which is probably already defined, with President Lula da Silva's choice Dilma Rousseff way ahead of her opponents in the polls, the "wacky race" for Congress dominates Brazil's blogosphere and social network websites.

Image caption,
Ex-footballer Romario says he will champion the poor

Tiririca's videos, for example, have already been viewed by more than 3.5m people on YouTube, and his name remained as one of Twitter's trending topics for a few days.

"In Brazil, all of the candidates are allocated airtime on aerial TV and radio. And when people like Tiririca appear on the screen, they stand out from the 'boring' ones who are actually using their slot to present real proposals", explains Eliane Cantanhede, political correspondent at Folha de S Paulo newspaper.

But a long list of exotic names running for office is not unique to this electoral campaign.

"Brazil has a tradition of voting for these types of characters, either because they make a strong impression on the poorer and less informed voters, or because they attract those wealthy and well-educated people who are fed up with politicians and want to protest", Cantanhede says.

The way the Chamber of Deputies is formed - by an open-list proportional representation system - also feeds the existence of such candidates, analysts say.

David Fleischer, professor of Political Science at the University of Brasilia, explains: "These people are promoted by their parties in the hope that they will get enough votes to pull some two or three less-voted-for candidates into office."

Some parties are so aware of the efficiency of the system that they even invite the celebrities to run in the elections.

One example is Suellem Rocha, alias Mulher-Pera - "the pear-shaped woman" - a 22-year-old model and dancer who told the BBC she had accepted a proposal from the National Labour Party to try and grab a seat in Brasilia, where she expects to "fight for the young people", as she puts it.

"I am enjoying campaigning in the streets, and the people I meet say they'd rather vote for me than for corrupt candidates. They tell me it is time to bring renovation to the Congress," she says.

'Bad guys'

Corruption is, in fact, one of the words most associated with the body formed by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

Image caption,
Suellem Rocha was invited to stand by the National Labour Party

Research carried out in 2007 by G1.com, a leading Brazilian news website, showed that there had been at least 20 major corruption scandals in the Congress since democracy was restored in Brazil in 1985.

One of the most notorious was the "mensalao" scandal, an alleged cash-for-votes scheme involving Lula's ruling Workers' Party and some of his closest allies, in 2005.

Those accused stepped down or were banned from office, but Lula managed to stay afloat and was re-elected the following year.

"If in the past the Congress was crucial for the opposition to the military regime, today it is just perceived as a place where bad guys go to make money," says Cantanhede.

For the analyst, this is the result of Brazil's failure to keep up with political changes, contrary to what it did in the economic front: "Because of the centralising nature of the Lula administration and because of their lack of interest in promoting an ethical debate, the Brazilian legislative lost its political role."

The body is still responsible for approving or rejecting laws, as well as controlling the executive's budget.

But, as Prof Fleischer explains, the existence of leadership committees, formed by deputies appointed by their parties and allies, allows the president to have considerable power to control the Congressional agenda.

On 3rd October, almost 136m Brazilians will also be choosing state governors, state deputies and senators. Voting is mandatory in the country.

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