By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – As Brazil prepares for Sunday’s October 7th municipal elections, 640 candidates for mayor in 602 cities will appear on the ballot but might not be allowed to take office if they win, Globo reported. The 640 mayoral candidates represent some eleven percent of the total 15,550 mayoral hopefuls.
Most of these are candidates whose applications were rejected by regional electoral courts because of a ficha suja, or dirty record: that is, their convictions of a range of crimes – from corruption to drug trafficking – render them ineligible for office under the 2010 Lei do Ficha Limpa (Law of Clean Record).
Rejected candidates generally appeal to the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) but the court will not have time to judge all their cases individually before Sunday’s polls. According to court information, 5,343 appeals for rejected applications currently await judgement – these include applications to run for deputy mayor and city council seats as well as for mayor.
“You have these very strict rules on political procedures,” said Joao Castro Neves, a consultant with the Eurasia Group, “but a judicial system that is not quick enough to enforce and enact them.”
In the meantime, rejected candidates appear on the ballot alongside ‘clean’ candidates, meaning a voter who selects a ‘dirty’ candidate may find their vote effectively annulled if that candidate is later prevented from taking office by the TSE. Essentially, the onus to research a candidate to find out whether or not they are ‘dirty’ lies with the voter.
David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasília said that this is asking a lot of the electorate, especially in a country where one in five remain functionally illiterate, according to IBGE statistics. “Not many voters will do the research necessary,” he said. “Maybe in the biggest cities, but most voters in the interior don’t read newspapers.”
Corruption has historically dogged politics in Brazil, and the Lei do Ficha Limpa is one of a number of recent steps taken to improve transparency. Still, corruption cases continue to arise regularly; this weekend, a report in Veja accused Eduardo Paes, Rio de Janeiro’s incumbent mayor, of paying a rival R$1 million to drop out of the race.
Even so, as the mayor of a city that is booming after years of decline, experts say the accusations are unlikely to cost Paes the election. Rio de Janeiro has benefited from oil royalties, and along with funding for the 2016 Olympic Games, improvements in infrastructure and security are being felt.
Corruption has wielded more influence in São Paulo’s race. José Serra (PSDB), who lost the 2010 presidential race to President Dilma Rousseff, has vocally sought to link his rival, the PT’s Fernando Haddad, to the mensalão, a vote-buying scandal currently in the Supreme Court.
According to the latest Datafolha poll he has succeeded: ten percent of São Paulo voters said they would not vote for Haddad because of the mensalão. “That is a big drop because of the public perception of corruption,” said Professor Fleischer.
Former Congressman Celso Russomano (PRB) looks likely to win Sunday in São Paulo. But with Serra and Haddad fighting for second place, he will probably not garner the fifty percent needed to prevent a run-off. The second round of voting will take place October 28th.