| Laura Bonilla |
RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Five Barack Obamas, three Bin Ladens, a Wonder Woman, a 007: the ballot for Sunday’s elections in Brazil can look more like the inventory at a costume shop.
But the madcap cast of candidates reflects deep frustration with politics as usual, say analysts in Brazil, where 80 per cent of the population say they don’t trust Congress and fed-up voters prefer an illiterate clown to another corrupt politician.
That was literally the case in the last national elections four years ago, when a Sao Paulo clown named Tiririca (Grumpy) ran for Congress on the campaign slogan “It can’t get any worse.”
He won the most votes of any congressional candidate in the country, 1.3 million, and had to learn to write his name to start his new job.
In four years, he has never spoken on the floor or introduced a bill that passed. But he had one of the best attendance records in the lower house and is a strong favourite to win reelection on October 5.
In this sprawling South American country where corruption scandals have grown almost routine -fuelling massive protests last year, when more than one million people flooded the streets in anger at the theft of their tax money – a wacky gimmick or ridiculous name can get a political outsider elected.
Election law allows candidates to register under any name they like, and the ballot is bursting with creativity, from Wonder Woman to Yoghurt Woman, from Hamburger Face to Motorcycle Man, from Crazy D*** to A** to Chupacabra, Chiclet, Rambo and Brazilian 007.
There are even five more Tiriricas running in other states.
“Tiririca launched a new school of thought, and now he’s got his disciples,” said Gil Castello Branco, the founder of activist group Cuentas Abiertas (Open Books), which fights for transparency in the management of public funds.
“But if they truly proliferate, there’s going to be a huge decline in quality in Congress. It’s really a protest vote,” he told AFP.
Such candidates often run on a platform of opposition to the political system in Brazil, where there are 32 parties and governing means striking deals, forming alliances, spreading jobs around or – as was the case with the massive “mensalao” (big monthly payment) scandal that broke in 2005 – buying votes.
But parties sometimes use outsider stars for their own ends.
In 2010, Tiririca won so many votes that three more Republic Party candidates rode his coattails into Congress.
“The joke ends up being on the voters, who pick the clown thinking it’s a way of criticising the system. But then the clown brings more conventional candidates with him, including some with criminal records, as was the case with Tiririca,” said Castello Branco.
One of the candidates calling himself Bin Laden, a would-be Congressman for Sao Paulo, has a long grey beard and makes his campaign appearances in an orange jumpsuit.
“I want to bomb Brasilia” to shake up the political system, he told AFP.
Later he said this was simply a slogan, and that he was not in favour of killing people.Jesus, a candidate for state legislature in Pernambuco, promises “peace in football” and campaigns in long hair and a white tunic.
He said he had rejected bribes of up to $30,000 to join traditional parties before opting for the small, shoestring-budget National Mobilization Party (PMN).
Silvio Costa, the founder of political watchdog website Focus on Congress, said offbeat candidates are “often opportunists with nothing to offer, but generally not the biggest thieves in Brazilian politics.”
“The vast majority are worse,” he said, denouncing a system that “favours the corrupt” and is funded by “dirty money.”
But with the country likely to be divided in the wake of a neck-and-neck presidential race between incumbent Dilma Rousseff and popular environmentalist Marina Silva, the likelihood of deep reforms is slim for now.
“I’m not optimistic. Changing politics isn’t easy. The people in power only use it for themselves,” said Castello Branco.