Politics by numbers
Brazil goes to the polls next week on October 7th for local elections but, since it is mid-term in Dilma Rousseff’s Presidential term, no doubt the outcome will be watched and ‘pundited’ and ‘spundited’ no end.
As an expat, here, and formerly involved in UK politics it all seems a bit strange as well as much the same! I cannot give you much insight into the various political nuances as I am still too new to the country and my linguistic skills somewhat limited, so I cannot digest all the local news, it is filtered by the limits of English articles I can read about what’s going on. But I would like to give you a flavour at least…
First, regarding the title of this post “Politics by numbers”! On voting day the electorate will get to vote for the NUMBER of their favourite (or least un-favourite!?) candidate, for Mayor if the authority has one and/or for councillors (vereadors). Because it is an open list system they will be voting for individuals, rather than, specifically, for a Party because (as I understand it…) different Party members can put themselves forward without there being a Party ‘list’ limited by the number of seats.
There is a very good general view of how the election will work by Speyside Insight (www.ow.ly/2bsr7I) and the example they give is for São Paulo which has 1200 candidates for just 55 seats in the Local Assembly. So, “standing out” from the crowd is often important and ‘getting your candidate’s number across’ is vital. There is clearly some element of choice in the number a candidate may be allocated because a lot of them try to be memorable for some factor or another.
For example the Party of the President Dilma (see Wikipedia for her bio… http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilma_Rousseff ) and former President Lula (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores – Workers Party, or perhaps Labour Party?) has the number 13 for its candidates. So, if you are a PT member your number starts with 13 and I have seen candidates with numbers 13.013 and 13.130 and 13.123 – clearly all of which have a degree of symmetry you might recall when voting. Or, of course, you might not!
I guess that if you are lower down the candidates’ Pecking Order you don’t get chance to choose quite such a memorable number, so you have to choose your birthday or some other “lucky number” to fly with.
It seems the main Party numbers around me in Niteroi are 13, of course, and 12 (the PDT, or Partido Democrático Trabalhista – Democratic Labour Party) and 15 (the PMDB, or Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) although there is quite a showing in terms of flags and posters for number 55 (the PSD, or Partido Social Democrático – Social Democratic Party) in the fight for the Mayor of Niteroi. For a full listing of numbers and Parties have a look at Wikipedia again (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Brazil)
There is very little in the way of Party “Branding” that you would see in the UK, as in white on Yellow/Orange Bird for the Liberals, red rose for Labour and a scribbled tree on blue for the Tories. So, there is no way to tell at a glance who is for which Party, here, apart from the number. I mentioned Flags and Posters a moment ago and will come back to that in a minute but I thought at first that the strongest colour branding was for Party 13 which had huge red flags with a black number 13 printed on it but more recently I have seen white flags with a red number 13 and just yesterday white flags with a star in the centre and the number 13 inside the star. I fully expected a hammer and sickle to appear a little further down the road.
The Social Democratic Party, PSD, is quite consistent with sort of pastel shades of an orangey colour with sort of bluey green – consistent but a bit wishy-washy! And the Green Party (PV, or Partido Verde!) is also consistent and clear with its green flags and posters.
Having said that I have not actually seen any green flags, so perhaps the Green Party is being ecologically sound and not using the material!? But their posters are strongly branded – just not that many of them. They do appear clearly green on TV, too, so I guess their party coffers are not empty if they can afford TV ads.
The posters started coming out quite a few weeks ago and, indeed, some of them are looking a bit ragged now – some even defaced by the opposition. I saw one this morning with the face of the candidate ripped out of the centre of the poster and there have been posters with holes punched in the eyes and so on. Some just look ripped by the wind. But the posters and the flags are everywhere – quite a lot of mobile posters on an A-frame which is put out at the start of the day and (I presume anyway) taken in at the end of the day: and looked after by someone sitting with it by the roadside during the day.
As you drive along the busy main roads there are lots of posters and flags at junctions particularly and it can be a bit disconcerting having flags waved in front of the car as you drive along! Fatima tells me it was reported to her that the parties pay unemployed people and schoolkids about R$50 (just over £16) for a day “manning” a flag or poster. I have not been able to verify that report but, if accurate, it represents quite an investment judging by the numbers of flags etc.
Down the road a little way in the rural and seaside area of Saquarema where party number 15 currently has the Prefect (Mayor) job, the bridge leading across the lake entrance towards Bacaxa has about ten lampposts and you will mostly find a person at each lamppost with a number 15 flag. Quite often they will be young people and they keep in touch with each other talking on mobiles a lot of the time!
Some junctions, especially the busiest, may have as many as ten different parties represented, including several of the minor parties. There is a lot of tendency towards coalition groupings and less formal cross party line support. So, a candidate from a smaller party in the 40s may support candidate number 12 or candidate number 15 for Mayor and have TWO posters it his or her site(s).
Former President Lula (Party 13) got off to a rocky start by jumping the electoral gun coming out to support the incumbent mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes (Party number 15) before the election had been formally announced but I think that slipped under the wire.
Lula also nearly caused a three-car collision the other evening as I was driving along, although I am sure he knew nothing about it. Just up ahead I could see the back of a lorry with what looked like a backlit poster showing on it. The lorry was moving fairly slowly and suddenly the image brightened up and started moving! The car nearest the lorry swerved sharply, the driver having been startled, and I had to slam the anchors on quite hard to avoid him; and the car behind me came VERY close as I slowed up! The lorry was one that should have been used at an election rally showing a large screen moving picture of the former President BUT it was on the inside lane of a major road moving slowly and should clearly NOT have been showing his film then – scared the daylights out of me, I have to say! It is not something you would expect to see on an English dual carriageway!
As well as the flags and posters there are also very large cardboard cut-outs of some of the major candidates – perhaps about eight feet tall. And candidates are virtually all introduced by their first names. That is one of the key social differences here in Brazil – so Fatima is Donna Fatima and everyone is on first-name terms with everyone else. But I think the “stand-out” prize has to go to a candidate here who has been campaigning for years on disability issues and was instrumental in helping to develop a large centre providing support for all people with what they choose to call here in Brazil “deficientes”.
Her name is Tania and she is a member of Party no 12 the PTD – Democratic Labour Party – and she campaigns from her wheelchair. Her supporters have organised at least two (and there may be more, for all I know) pick-up trucks which drive around the area with her posters and each carrying a large papier-mâché model of her in her wheel-chair on the back – about double life-size, with a double-life size smile as well. Superb! From what I have read of her, she is a “stand-out” person as well as having a “stand-out” marketing campaign. I will let you know how she gets on when the results are in.
It’s all a bit different from the US Presidential Election going on now, too! But I bet the candidates all feel they just MIGHT win…I know THAT feeling well enough! And I did win a Parish election a couple of times!