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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – What happens when a circus clown and TV comedian runs for congress with the slogan “It can't get any worse”?
He earns the most votes of any congressional candidate.
And that’s no joke.
Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, famous nationwide for his character Tiririca (Grumpy), received 1,353,820 votes on the Oct. 3 to win a congressional seat in the state of São Paulo, the country’s largest electoral college.
In the 1990s, Tiririca’s song “Fiorentina” was a hit in Brazil.
The clown’s profile grew even larger this past weekend with his dominating performance at the polls. But his election reinforces the stereotype that Brazilians have little education and aren’t really interested in politics.
Even before Brazilians elected Tiririca, news agencies The Associated Press and Reuters already had spread the news worldwide that one of the newest members of Congress would likely be a clown – who allegedly is illiterate.
Tiririca acknowledged being ignorant of the activities of a congressman, but he said he would like to be elected to help the poor, including his family
Infosurhoy.com tried contacting Tiririca through his media relations staff, but he refused to answer questions or release a statement.
The Regional Electoral Court of São Paulo (TRE-SP), however, posted on its website on Sept. 29 judge Aloísio Sérgio Rezende Silveira’s decision denying the Attorney General’s office request to prevent Tiririca from running for office because he's allegedly illiterate.
But Tiririca, elected for the Republic’s Party (PR), wasn’t the only celebrity to run for office.
Celebrities used their name recognition as part of their political campaigns, many of which were ultimately unsuccessful.
Pagode (a popular rhythm derived from samba) singer Waguinho (Labor Party of Brazil – PTdoB), who became famous in the 1990s when he took part in the musical group Os Morenos, ran for office. So did Ronaldo Ésper (Christian Labor Party – PTC), a famous fashion designer who took part in TV programs and became even more popular after being caught allegedly stealing a vase from a cemetery.
Mulher Melão (Melon Woman, representing coalition Humanist Party of Solidarity/PHS – National Labor Party/PTN) and Mulher Pêra (Pear Woman, from PTN) – both dancers who used their beautiful bodies to attract media attention – also conducted campaigns.
But they all lost.
Of all the candidates running in the Oct. 3 elections, 186 identified themselves as musicians, singers, songwriters, actors, show directors, professional athletes, coaches or models, according to the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).
But the number may be even larger, as former soccer player Romário, for instance, identified himself as a businessman.
The striker of the Brazilian National Team, who led his team to the World Cup title in 1994, received the sixth-highest number of votes (146,859), earning a seat in the state of Rio de Janeiro’s congress.
Romário, 44, scored more than 1,000 goals during his career. But the man nicknamed “Shorty” proved he is as skilled in politics as he was with a ball at his feet.
One of the proposals supported by Romário in his platform was the creation of a network for health care, education services and sports activities for poor children with special needs.
After all, Romário’s 5-year-old daughter, Ivy, has Down syndrome.
“Today a mother of a special child needs to catch two or three buses with a child, who sometimes presents motor difficulties, until she gets to a health care facility where [the child] can receive neurological assistance,” Romario told Infosurhoy.com. “Then, [the mother] catches even more buses to take her child to physiotherapy, speech therapy, school and so on.”
Romário, who was born in Jacarezinho, one of Rio’s largest slums, grew up in the middle- and lower-middle class suburb of Vila da Penha. That’s why his political agenda proposals are centered on his humble upbringing.
“I want to help the children and the young adults, mainly those from the [poor] communities, who are involved with … drugs and [participate in] the growing trend of becoming a fogueteiro [in drug traffickers’ parlance, a boy who sets fireworks to let his partners know when the police or a rival drug faction is coming],” he said. “In politics, I know I can change this reality through sports.”
Bebeto, member of Romário’s team that won the World Cup in 1994, ran for the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro under the name of “Bebeto Tetra,” a reference to the Brazilian soccer team’s fourth title won in 1994. The team won a record-setting fifth World Cup crown eight years later.
In the ballot boxes, the player didn’t give the same performance as he had done on the soccer field, but he assured his seat as the 62nd -most voted state deputy, with 28,328 votes.
Celebrities are vote pullers
The political parties want celebrities on their tickets because they attract more votes, the reason they're called “vote pullers.”
The so-called electoral coefficient, which is a result of the number of votes won by all candidates and parties divided by the number of seats to be filled in each state, explains the parties’ celebrity hunt.
When the number of votes a candidate receives overtakes the electoral coefficient, the overage goes to his or her party’s candidates, increasing the chances that a party has even more politicians elected as state and federal deputies.
In São Paulo, for instance, the electoral coefficient for a federal deputy was 304,533 votes. The 1,353,820 votes for Tiririca assured the seats of three other candidates from his party, no matter the number of votes they received.
“Attracting these people is a strategy of the parties,” says Ricardo Ismael, a professor of sociology and politics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ). “Behind Tiritica there were six parties in his coalition. They gave Tiririca much more space on TV (during the political campaign) than they gave to the other candidates.”
But in the election for the senate, the two candidates with the most votes in each of the 26 states and in the Federal District were elected.
That’s why only four out of the 186 celebrity candidates ran for seats in the senate.
Supported by a coalition of 11 parties, Netinho de Paula, who succeeded as a pagode singer of the Negritude Jr. band and as a television host, ran for the senate after she received the third-most votes of all council members in the city of São Paulo in 2008.
“I respect the democratic right of all artists who want to compete. But I believe that – artist or not – anyone wishing to run for a public position should present proposals to the [voters] and dedicate himself/herself to solving problems,” Netinho says.
Paulo Roberto Leal, PhD, professor of political science at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF), said there are numerous reasons Brazilians voted for celebrities.
“In the case of Tiririca, many of his potential voters believe they are casting a protest vote against what they see as a perverted political process,” Leal says.
Ismael adds: “Romário is an idol. He was the star of soccer teams that represent Brazil’s biggest group of fans. He presented [his ideas] and people [gave] him a vote of confidence.”
Leal said he doesn’t have a problem with celebrities who don’t have experience running for office. But he’s against Brazilians voting for any candidate who doesn’t have a platform.
“Whoever wins the popular vote … has legitimacy to exert his/her mandate,” Leal says. “The only thing [one can] do is hope that the voters will punish those who don’t perform well by not voting them into office again.”