Archive | October, 2010

Tomorrow Decides Brazil’s Next 4 years

30 Oct

Tomorrow’s the second and final round of the presidential election and no one is holding their breath. Dilma Rouseff is poised to win, buoyed almost wholly by disproportionate popularity in the North-east of the country. A northeasterner himself, Lula has tremendous pull in this area. The PT’s popularity also owes much to the expansive success of a government program of conditional-cash-transfers, Bolsa Familia (send kids to school, receive cash from government). Meanwhile, the south and southeast of the country is expected to vote disproportionately for José Serra, by far the more proven administrator of the two. For what it’s worth, both candidates appear to be sincerely concerned about Brazil.

What is most worrisome about the election are not the candidates, but instead the balance of power. If Serra wins, he will have to move quickly to steal the PMDB from the PT, and even then he will be looking at a difficult legislature. If Dilma takes the prize, it will be the third consecutive term for a PT president and the third time the PT enjoys an assured majority. There will also be sufficient votes for the PT and its allies to change the constitution, if they can agree to do so.

As I wrote in a recent newspaper editorial, governments that remain in power tend to become less accountable, especially ones with strong legislative control. Simply put, parties that remain in power election after election become more adept at co-opting powerful actors, whether they be the press, other parts of government, or even the opposition. The tradeoff—continuity for diminished accountability—can be a fair one, but it need be considered conscientiously. This has not occurred; the media has shed scant light on the issue of accountability during this election campaign.

The lack of substantive coverage on issues of accountability, particularly prospective reforms, is extremely peculiar. Right now I’m reading a Brazilian Classic, translated loosely as History of Brazilian Foreign Policy. I am amazed at how the same themes appear over and over again, especially the “quest for development” and accusations by foreign “interventionist” governments that Brazil’s root problem is bad governance and corruption. This accusation was typically rebuffed by alleging that the U.S. and its “imperialist” policies fostered dependence and generated bad government by directly or indirectly interfering in politics. Brazil can no longer fall back on these excuses, and indeed, bad government is undeniably a problem— just ask a Brazilian. I’ll be working to address this issue in the coming years, whether by teaching or creating greater awareness surrounding the need for transparency reform. An immediate focus is the freedom of information bill currently awaiting final approval in the Senate.

The Believably Unbelievable

7 Oct

Some disheartening facts from the recent Brazilian election,

-Out of a total of 136 million eligible Brazilian voters, 18 million did not vote in the recent election, in a country where voting is mandatory for all citizens. This is nearly 15 percent of the electorate.

-The “clean docket” (Ficha Limpa) law was passed just before the election, which prohibits criminally convicted politicians from being elected to public office. The Supreme court is currently reviewing the constitutionally of the law, and in the meantime, the criminally-convicted have run for office hoping that it will be struck down. The believably unbelievable of it all is that over 8 million Brazilians voted for politicians with criminal records– a full 6 percent of the electorate.

-It appears that Brazilians elected an illiterate clown to office— literally. TV personality and clown, Tiririca, garnered more than 1.2 million votes in the recent election, easily defeating his challengers. One of his television advertisements had him dressed in semi-clown outfit and making the following appeal (I paraphrase): “I’m not sure exactly what they do in the Chamber of Deputies, but elect me and I’ll let you know.” Because he is an illiterate, the electoral courts will likely bar him from taking office.


The Brazilian media continues to give only page 10 coverage of serious allegations of corruption and mispropriety. Yesterday’s Folha de São Paulo did well to publish an article (well into the first section) on more than 300 million reais that were unaccountably spent in the Senate between July 2008 and August 2009. But why isn’t this type of news on the front page? One can only imagine the reaction of Canadian or American taxpayers if $200 million dollars went unaccounted for in their respective senates.


Similarly, a bribery/nepotism scandal surrounding the Chief of State’s Office (Casa Civil) and indirectly linked to the presidential candidate Dilma Rouseff received good coverage for a couple of days and then died away. No demands for greater transparency from the news media, no linking of the issue with the pending access to information law now awaiting consideration in the Senate. Today, the committee investigating this scandal archived proceedings until after the election. This sort of political subterfuge is permitted largely because the news media will not risk making what is marginally public knowledge into widely publicized information.

One would think that the theme of transparency–and the pending access to information law in the Senate–should be garnering more attention. Evidently not. Today and Monday a couple of articles I wrote were published on the Brazilian media’s reluctance to provide salient coverage of an access to information law. Without the news media taking an interest in critical prospective reforms– which will benefit the country both politically and economically– corruption and impunity will continue to keep Brazil behind– no matter what rate of economic growth is achieved.