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By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – After a defeat in a polemical campaign against corruption in 2008, Rio de Janeiro’s Regional Electoral Tribunal (TRE-RJ) is back in action, only this time with a different agenda.

Nametala Machado Jorge, President of the TRE-RJ, photo by Michel Filho/ O Globo.
Nametala Machado Jorge, current TRE-RJ president, photo by Michel Filho/ O Globo.

In 2008 they lost in a campaign focused on prohibiting candidates with criminal records from participating in the elections. The court feels it’s setting more feasible goals now by turning its focus towards militias and the drug trade’s effect on elections.

After losing a decision in the STF (Brazil’s supreme court) in 2008, the regional court was taken aback. Led by its then president, Roberto Wider, the TRE-RJ’s “Fichas Sujas” (dirty records) campaign was a broad stroke against allowing politicians who were being tried or who had been condemned of crimes of moral turpitude to participate in elections for public office.

The campaign caught immediate attention in the press and led to subsequent support from other regional tribunals as well as the public, who campaigned in the streets. Wider’s strong stance on the issue spawned a national movement, which coupled with the OAB’s (Order of Brazilian Attorneys) support roused Brazilians towards a conscientious vote in 2008.

However, Wider, who now himself faces allegations of corruption, was defeated when the question was brought before the Supreme Federal Tribunal, which considered the prohibition as an act of discrimination.

Desembargador Roberto Wider, photo by Michel Filho/O Globo.
2008 TRE president, Roberto Wider, photo by Michel Filho/O Globo.

The STF’s decision in the 2008 regional elections served as a blow to the Fichas Sujas movement. In Rio de Janeiro one candidate, Carminha Jerominho, was actually released from prison to take office. At the time Carminha was in a federal penitentiary for charges of militia affiliation and campaign coercion – her father and uncle remain in prison.

Another candidate who would have been prevented from running in the elections is Rocinha’s Claudinho da Academia. After allegedly having ties with Rocinha’s drug trade, he is currently being charged with campaign coercion for methods used during his 2008 bid.

Now, two years later, in an effort to enforce the principals of free elections, the TRE’s new president, Nametala Machado Jorge, has declared that the court will reach for more achievable goals. “The law set by the STF is clear, the candidate can run as long as he has not been definitely tried and found guilty… the public has to be the higher judge,” stated Jorge.

The new campaign targets the influence of the drug trade and militias on voters in socially excluded areas. In 2008 drug dealers and militiamen were suspected to have coerced entire communities to vote on candidates of their choosing, either through bribes or threats.

Asked whether he would call on the army to guarantee free elections, as ultimately occurred in 2008, Jorge said, “For now the option is not on the table, but we will not discard it.”

The strategy will be a joint effort. Having already met with the state’s Secretariat of Public Safety and the Federal Police to draw up a plan for tackling the foreseeable problems in the election, Nametala seems confident in the court’s actions.

As the TRE-RJ’s president declared in an interview with O Globo, “I am not scared. I am certain that I can count on Rio’s public security organs… we will guarantee the freedom of the electoral discussion.”

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