By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Regional election courts have barred more than 300 mayoral candidates in October’s municipal elections from running for office under the Lei do Ficha Limpa (Clean Record Law), which declares citizens convicted of a range of crimes ineligible for office. The crimes that prohibit holding public office include corruption, drug trafficking and fraud, within eight years of completing their sentences.
The law was passed in 2010, after a sustained campaign by the Movement Against Electoral Corruption (MCCE), led by Judge Márlon Jacinto Reis, delivered to Congress a 1.6 million signature strong petition in support of the bill.
“Ficha Limpa is a big step,” said David Fleischer, political scientist at University of Brasilia. “It is really a small revolution in Brazilian politics.”
The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), commonly known as the “tucanos,” was shown to be the party with the most convicted candidates, with 56 of the 317 barred by Tribunais Regionais Eleitorais (Regional Election Courts, TREs).
The Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), which some say is traditionally considered the most corrupt party, came in second with 49.
The ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT) was eighth, with eighteen barred candidates, and four parties – PTC, PSOL, PSDC and PHS – had only one candidate each.
Their relatively low appearance on the survey comes at a good time for the PT, whose campaign rivals have in recent weeks sought to link current PT candidates to the mensalão, an ongoing votes-for-cash case in which former PT politicians stand accused of bribing coalition members between 2003 and 2005.
“About ten or fifteen years ago, PT was considered the very clean, non-corrupt party,” said Professor Fleischer. “Even before the mensalão things started to happen to show that they were acting just like the other parties, and with the mensalão they’ve really been reduced to the same status.”
Candidates barred by regional courts may appeal to the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (Supreme Electoral Court, TSE). Folha reported that the TSE’s president, Minister Cármen Lúcia, has said that cases will be considered by the year’s end, before elected candidates would take office in January 2013, but not in time for campaigning and the elections.
Therefore, the names of candidates barred under the Ficha Limpa will still appear on the ballot. If their appeal to the TSE is rejected they will be unable to take office even if they receive the most votes. Some experts say that although this process is legally sound, as it protects the right of the defendant, it effectively cheats voters out of a fair vote.
“Many electors who cast a vote for a dirty politician because of a partisan affiliation, bad luck, or a belief that the politician’s virtues outweigh the charges against him/her may find their vote annulled,” explained Dr. Greg Michener, a political scientist at Fundação Getúlio Varas (FGV) and an expert in transparency issues.
“Had the politician in question been excluded from the ballot in the first place, electors could have voted for an alternative candidate.”
Dr. Michener said the number of candidates attempting to run for office with a criminal record did not surprise him, in part because the Brazilian constitution provides certain forms of immunity against prosecution to officials, which offers “dirty” politicians incentives to stay in office.
Though there are frequent Parliamentary Investigation Commissions convened to investigate alleged corruption and other crimes by officials, prosecution or impeachment is rare. In 2010 the Brazilian courts produced only 416 final judgments in corruption crimes and 547 cases of money laundering – about ten percent of the average that is in the U.S. court system each year.