Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the first round of voting October 3rd, Brazilians elected 513 federal deputies and 54 senators—or did they? Right now, nobody knows for sure who was elected and who was not. The reasons for this uncertainty are basically two: illiteracy and the Ficha Limpa or “Clean Sheet” law.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Illiteracy would not be important if it concerned only Tiririca, the top vote-getter in the nation with over 1.3 million votes. Evidence arose that he cannot read and write, which disqualifies him from serving as a federal Deputy. If it turns out he is illiterate, all votes for him will be declared void, which will directly impact the composition of the São Paulo delegation to Congress in two ways. First, the proportion of seats available to his party coalition (including PT) will be decreased.

Second, within that coalition, one or two candidates from other parties who did not have quite enough votes may be promoted. The decision will eventually be taken by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) or perhaps even the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF).

The Ficha Limpa controversy is much more complicated. The law instituting this rule declares that a candidate who has been convicted of a criminal or electoral crime, where that conviction was affirmed by an appellate court, is ineligible this election. Some eighty candidates for federal legislative office around the country, many of them extremely popular, have been affected by this.

In the State of Pará, the two candidates for Senator who finished second and third did not have their votes counted, so the fourth-place finisher is (for now) the second senator elected. If either of the excluded pair wins his appeal, he will become senator. If they both lose their appeal, there must be a new election, because they received, in total, more than half the votes for Senator. In the State of Paraíba, the top vote getter was Cássio Cunha Lima, but his votes weren’t counted because of Ficha Limpa. Stay tuned.

In the State of Rio, Anthony Garotinho was the top vote-getter for federal deputy and the third highest in the country. However, his votes have only been counted because of a temporary restraining order by the TSE, delaying a decision on his appeal from a decision making him ineligible by reason of the Ficha Limpa. If his votes are excluded, it will affect the composition of the State of Rio’s Congressional delegation. Stay tuned.

In São Paulo, Paulo Maluf accumulated over 450,000 votes for federal deputy but they were not counted, because he too is barred by the Ficha Limpa. If he wins his appeal, they will be counted, and São Paulo’s delegation will again be affected. Stay tuned.

The Curmudgeon submits that the problem lies with the Ficha Limpa law, which is trying to impose restrictions on voters that they do not want. If Brazilian voters want to vote for convicted criminals (and millions of them do), they will be governed by those criminals. And they will deserve the government they get.

The problem also lies with President Lula, who could have avoided this uncertainty by appointing the eleventh STF Justice, but has not done so. Most commentators believe he will not do so, but will leave the problem for Dilma to solve next year. Stay tuned.


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