By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s long-awaited elections will finally be held this Sunday, October 3rd, after eight years of rule by current president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, during which Brazil moved away from its history of political polarization, and achieved increased prosperity and equity, while retaining its market-based economy.
No big surprises are expected in the presidential race, contested mainly between Lula’s successor and front-runner Dilma Rousseff, the ex-mayor and governor of São Paulo José Serra, and accomplished environmentalist Marina Silva, nor the gubernatorial race for the state of Rio de Janeiro, in which the current governor Sérgio Cabral appears to be the clear leader, yet the political scene that will emerge in the aftermath remains a topic of heavy debate.
Aside from the presidency, all 513 seats of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), two-thirds of the 81 seats at Senado Federal (Federal Senate), governorships for Brazil’s 26 states, as well as the Distríto Federal, and all state legislatures will be contested on election day.
Unlike many Western nations, voting is compulsory for all Brazilian citizens between the ages of 18 and 70. Mandatory voting, however, does not mean that everyone is required to pick and vote for a candidate, as the Brazilian electoral law gives the voters two different options to not state a preference: voting nulo (null) and branco (white).
While voting nulo does not register the vote at all, meaning the voter does not approve of any of the candidates, voting branco registers an unspecified vote, which is eventually added to the total votes for the candidate with the highest number of votes in the final round, designed to reflect the “anything goes” attitude of the voter as a passive approval of the winner.
In order to prevent the public from treating the election day as a holiday or any other Sunday, and to secure the participation of a population with unimpaired judgment, the sale of alcoholic beverages are prohibited countrywide from midnight on Saturday until the end of voting.
The enforcement of the law naturally falls short in certain regions, such as in the Zona Norte of Rio de Janeiro, where many have witnessed open bars on previous election days, while the more orderly and tightly controlled Zona Sul has far fewer, if any, infractions, and Mayor Eduardo Paes’ ‘Shock and Order’ police are likely to be out in force.
The 2010 election will be the first not to feature Lula’s name on the ballot since 1989, but his popularity seems to precede this fact with many unaware of his ineligibility, and he continues to receive a significant portion of votes in the polls. The clear beneficiary of such a support for the incumbent is his designated successor, Dilma, who despite never having been elected for office before has gained the support of about half the nation, soothing the potential fears of a change-wary public by promises of continuity.
Run-off rounds for the presidency and each of the state governorships will be held on October 31st in the case of a candidate, clearly Rousseff in the polls, failing the get an absolute majority of votes in the first round. The senators, on the other hand, are elected by plurality vote, and serve eight-year terms. An open-list proportional representation system is employed to elect the 513 members of the Câmara dos Deputados, who all serve four-year terms.
In an interesting potential twist, the percentage of the voters who stated their intention to vote blank in opinion polls has decreased by a couple of points in the past week, while at the same time Marina Silva’s popularity increased by a few points. The polls that used to point to a first-round victory for Dilma now indicate that both a clear win and a run-off are possibilities, any difference staying within their margin of error.