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Brazzil - Politics - July 2004

A Few Tricks to Get Elected in Brazil

Brazilians will be going to the polls this coming October 3. The vote
is mandatory in Brazil. From 7 A.M. to 5 P.M., voters all over
the country will be choosing mayors and city council members.
Here, a Brazilian Catholic bishop talks about and warns against
some of the schemes that Brazilian candidates use to get elected.

Demétrio Valentini


Picture One of the most urgent challenges in Brazil is the participation of citizens, not only in the electoral process, but also in overseeing the administration of public offices.

For a good election campaign, nothing beats counting on candidates willing to unveil their proposals and voters interested in discerning them before casting their ballots.

Were it how it happened in reality, we—voters and candidates—would all be free from schemes used to win over votes. That is why there is no better medicine against corruption in elections than conscious voters and candidates who bet not on the power of money, but on the persuasive force of their administrative plan.

The upcoming race for office, which must abide by electoral legislative guidelines, urges us to focus our attention on aspects relative to the implementation of this legislation, in order to avoid that certain initiatives by candidates be viewed as attempts to corrupt the voting process, which now is severely punished by law.

So, the references I make, in a relatively nonspecific fashion, are part of a set of findings that are common knowledge to all and also brought to the Bishop's attention, as the saying has for so long suggested: "Take your complaint to the bishop!"

The empty talk begins with the promises. Proof of this is the fact that in folk myth the candidate is the man of promises. Promising is not illegal. As a matter of fact, promise and compromise have the same semantic origin.

The problem rests in promises that compromise! And above all, promises that consist of personal advantages to voters, such as offering posts in local administrations.

Some municipal offices in our region have become unmanageable due to this sort of pledge, with administrations inflated by a number of staff members far beyond necessary.

There are other tactics that may seem inoffensive, but when associated within the framework of elections, are nonetheless corrupting ingredients. Among them:

Sponsoring parties. The undertone of politicking loses all disguises as candidates approach the campaign trail with a display of extraordinary generosity towards sponsoring cookouts, birthday parties, or other pretenses for luncheons and dinners. It's disheartening to observe the creation of a market where votes are auctioned off in return for food and drinks.

Paying for graduations. With it comes the aggravating factor of domesticating the political conscience of students, whose education should—precisely—be applied to fight off such practices.

Fuel money. It's a routine so ingrained, that it makes potential clients out of many voters for any candidate who introduces him or herself.

Subsidizing water and utilities bills. It's sad to witness the scope of extreme poverty of the population, the people's lack of resources to handle these bills. However, to make of this helplessness a tool for harnessing votes is to distort true politics, which in turn loses strength to combat the causes of abject poverty, by feeding off such misery that renders votes. It is a similar situation with overdue mortgage or other installment payments.

Providing baskets of staples. What is worse is that these baskets are not destined to ending the hunger of the people; instead, they are used to ending the hunger of candidates—for votes. The criteria for basket distribution are established according to the potential for votes from those receiving the goods. The more voters in a family, the greater the motivation to hand out baskets!

But all these devices are not as effective and direct as the most famous one of all: hiring campaign workers. In truth, paying for "campaign workers" turns out to be a camouflage for the purchase votes. It does happen, as it indeed has occurred in a recent election, when a candidate hired more than 1,500 workers in the final three days of the race. And it became evident that his victory was a result of that. The success of such stratagem relies on the element of last minute surprise.

Some candidates for city councilor compute the necessary number of votes to be elected. They equate the result to an equal number of workers hired.

This is where the all-mighty cash plays a role in the election process.

But this is where it warps politics the most. To reduce the democratic process to mere business deals is to defeat its essential goal of securing welfare and promoting social justice.

Since the resources for such tactics cannot be made public, they require the existence of off-the-books accounting, in order to fly under the radar of the electoral justice system in particular.

This is another situation that aggravates the process of corruption, directly contradicting the principle of transparency, the primary requisite to harbor integrity within public administrations.

Ideally, no one should make use of such schemes, and campaigning should center exclusively on studying and debating the political solutions to be found.

Therefore, it would be nice to dispose of all other promises and keep only what everyone is committed to, steering clear of such ploys, warning all voters that this time the race for office will be different!

Municipal Administrations

Campaigning is conducted with an eye on local public office. Therefore, it is only fitting to state here, even if in a very succinct manner, what has been brought to the bishop's ears regarding possible misallocation of funds within municipal administrations.

I begin with a recommendation from a former mayor, after experiencing up close what takes place in city management: "Tell voters not to elect a thief, because in city management, whoever wants to rob can do so."

This sort of rationale is sad, nonetheless realistic, wherein not only mayors are to blame, but also the many people who believe that these public officials are dishonest and willing to embark in foul play, full of trickeries, within the surroundings of city management.

In order to substantiate such generic allegations, we can cite a few examples of situations characterized by an environment of corruption: beginning with the workings between the Executive and Legislative branches.

The mayor must resist City Council's intentions to act as an agent for personal favors, a practice that exhausts municipal resources that should be allocated for other purposes.

Putting an end to the exchange of favors between the Executive and Legislative is a must. I was awe struck when a former mayor told me that in one town in our region there was a city council employee making 9,000 reais (approximately US$ 3,000) a month!

Another amazing fact is the abundance of high level posts, positions in committees. It's important to offer some figures here as well. In a certain town, the number of such jobs reaches 120!

The environment within city management allows for a wide array of corruption mechanisms. Despite being arduous, it is worth mentioning them, as a way of showing that the people are not unaware.

Schemes range from commissions earned in acquisitions made by the Administration to predetermined open biddings, misuse of fuel, and profiting from transportation methods. Even school lunch presents an opportunity for misappropriations and attaining personal favors.

And in an effort to masquerade the detours in the use of public funds, the trick is to show the books where all figures appear to check, as the State Accounting Office demands.

To exhibit such precision in the records, a diverse assortment of artifices is employed: false receipts, invoices from ghost companies, cloned notes. It seems that the know-how in corruption has become highly adept!

This is today's scenario not just for candidates but all citizens. Unfortunately, the economic crisis leads public officials in a confusing path, where nothing gets solved. Overstaffed municipal administrations is one.

Town hall should not be a source of jobs. It would be nice to have city management finding ways for the private sector to provide work for the population.

I made sure to double-check some of the data, for comparison purposes. I learned that the number of employees in the town of Tupandi, in the state or Rio Grande do Sul, was 110, 60 of them grade school teachers, because the city provides for grade school education. Thus, only 50 actually work in the administration!

The city has a budget of 7.5 million reais (US$ 2.5 million) and a population of 3,500 residents. 70 percent of the city's revenue comes from agriculture; the production of 20 million chickens comes second, followed by pork and milk production.

What was the economic policy of the city? It provided support to farmers' initiatives, by offering free ground-leveling services and roof tiles and protection screens for those wanting to start a poultry farm or raise hogs.

What has City Management learned? The investment by the administration comes back by way of taxes, and people stop looking for work away from home when they discover that their family business yields a bigger paycheck than an outside salary-base job.

Again, it would be nice to devote all our time to the exchange of ideas on regional development, in which town halls play an indispensable role; as well as the best way to rely on the effective work by the Councils, already provided in the statutes.

And finally, to bring it to public debate, in a permanent way, the issues of our cities, through local press, which unfortunately, must we say, at times stalks city hall, not to be of service to public debate, but to make demands and gain special treatment, blackmailing public administrators with the power to twist facts.

Upon such set of circumstances, let us reflect on the election campaign about to begin in the coming days.

Dom Luiz Demétrio Valentini is the Catholic Bishop of Jales, in the state of São Paulo. From 1991 to 1999 he was in charge of CNBB's (National Conference of Brazilian Bishops) Social Pastorals as well as President of the Brazilian Caritas. You can contact him at domdemetrio@melfinet.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net.

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