By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – For the 1.6 million Brazilians who put their names to the “Ficha Limpa” (Clean Record) petition, the news last week was just what they had been waiting for: the Federal Election Board (“Tribunal Superior Eleitoral” – TSE) finally ruled that the newly passed law to help prevent corruption in government will be applicable in this year’s October general election.
Law 9840 prevents candidates who have been convicted of any one of a range of crimes, including electoral fraud, from running for public office. The law passed unanimously through the senate on May 19th, and was ratified by President Luis Inacio da Silva.
Last week the law passed a final hurdle when by a vote of six to one the Federal Election Board, which is actually a court composed of judges that has enforceable power, upheld the applicability of the law to October’s elections.
Had the law failed to make it past this panel, the act could have been significantly derailed, opening the door to further challenges from opposing parties.
Electoral fraud has persistently dogged Brazilian politics over the years, and public office has become something of a haven for those with criminal records (of which there are many), largely because the Brazilian constitution makes it extremely difficult to prosecute accused officials.
Though there are frequent Parliamentary Investigation Commissions convened to look into infractions by officials, Brazilians remain cynical as to their efficacy, since prosecution, or even removal from office, rarely results.
Public dissatisfaction with the way Brazilian politics is conducted first gained momentum after the 1996 general election, which was infamous for accusations of vote-buying by several parties.
This election is widely acknowledged as one of the most distorted in Brazilian history, and led to the formation of the Brazilian Commission For Justice And Peace (CBPJ) in 1999, which continued a call for change from the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. One of the commission’s stated aims was to try to change the fact that so much fraud in politics passes without much protest from voters, due in part to it’s regularity.
When more than 1.6 million signatures arrived on the doorstep of Congress in September last year, endorsed by the Movement Against Electoral Corruption (MCCE), Law 9840 predictably met with stern resistance in government, as it presented a clear threat to many in office.
Initially the act was pushed aside, but in an election year heightened public pressure ensured that the law was moved rapidly through, even if the final draft is a rather diluted version of the original.
For example, the new law states that an offender can only be made ineligible for public office having been convicted by a court as opposed to a single judge. This process can, of course, take a long time.
Additionally, anyone convicted before June 4th of this year when the Ficha Limpa law was approved, can still run for election, somewhat leaving the future in better shape than the present.
The range of offenses that fall under Law 9840 includes intentional crime (such as drug trafficking), financial and environmental crime, administrative crime including electoral fraud, and ethical offenses. Those who give up their mandate prior to an election to avoid prosecution are also declared ineligible to run for office for eight years.