By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As the official campaign for the upcoming Brazilian elections begins, the Ficha Limpa (Clean Record) law, which makes politicians with criminal convictions ineligible to run for office, is being challenged and even bypassed by some politicians.
One of the biggest popular initiatives against corruption in Brazilian history, the Ficha Limpa petition was signed by over 1.6 million citizens and came into effect when President Lula approved it on June 4th.
The subsequent ruling by the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE, Federal Election Board) determined that the law would be retroactive and apply to this year’s elections, forcing political parties to review their ethical standards and weed out problematic candidates.
Nevertheless, it was this very rushed nature of the bill that left it vulnerable to attacks from the politicians who saw their careers threatened under the new law. It was also criticized by many for contradicting the constitution and the past rulings of Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF, Supreme Court), which gave convicted politicians multiple rights to file appeals in order to prevent false accusations by political enemies. Ficha Limpa puts an end to this process of filing repeated appeals, yet only takes into account convictions made by a court, as opposed to a single judge.
Politicians are not the only ones worried about the retrospective character of the law, as the judges have also raised concerns that Ficha Limpa cases could overwhelm them. It is estimated that some 25 percent of the members of Congress have legal problems that could potentially render them ineligible for reelection.
The number of troubled candidates appears to be the highest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, as 37 out of its 70 legislators are affected by legal woes.
José Carlos Gratz, a former deputy from the state of Espírito Santo, recently filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of Ficha Limpa on multiple grounds.
Gratz, who served a jail sentence after being found guilty of abusing his power, claims that the constitution prohibits retroactive laws, and requires all possibilities of appeal to be exhausted before a politician can be declared ineligible due to conviction. The lawsuit also points out that since a second vote was not obtained after changes were made to the original bill as required, it should technically be declared void.
Another politician, Senator Heráclito Fortes from Piauí, who was found guilty by a state court for misuse of public resources, is allowed to register for candidacy and run for reelection as the result of a Supreme Court ruling. The decision was made on the basis that the Supreme Court has not yet reached a final verdict on the case, as Fortes has appealed the decision of conviction and his appeal has been in the court since 2000.
So far, the TSE has rejected the registration of seven candidates, declaring them ineligible to run under Ficha Limpa, while a number of other politicians with corruption charges and/or convictions, including the ousted governor of Maranhão Jackson Lago, ex-senator Joaquim Roriz, and Paulo Maluf, who was declared one of the most corrupt politicians in the world by The Economist, were allowed to register.
The TSE holds the power to revoke the registrations of these controversial candidates. But for the time being, the primary concern for both the politicians and the jurists seems to be finding out whether or not the Supreme Court will rule Ficha Limpa unconstitutional.