News / Americas

Brazil in Grip of Historic Vote

Voters will elect president, 27 state governors, all 513 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate, and 1,059 representatives to state assemblies

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, smiles as Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff gestures to supporters during a campaign rally in Sao Bernardo do Campo, outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010. Brazil will
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, smiles as Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff gestures to supporters during a campaign rally in Sao Bernardo do Campo, outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010. Brazil will

Brazilians are voting in local and presidential elections today, and the favorite is Dilma Rousseff, the former chief of staff of the current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The vote marks Brazil's longest period of successive free elections. Many Brazilians have been apathetic during the campaign.

The streets of Rio de Janeiro have been taken over by cars, vans and bicycles making noisy pitches for a bewildering array of candidates.  

At Rio's Leblon beach, the promenade is cluttered with placards showing larger than life pictures of politicians with very sincere faces.

Ana Paula Vale de Santos sits on a beach chair under a propped up sign.  

The resident of a nearby slum, or favela, says she is paid 150 Brazilian reals, or about $90 a week, to sit there. All she has to do is guard the sign.

"I've never had any problems, but some friends of mine went to the bathroom and when they came back their sign was gone," she said.

Despite all the efforts by the candidates, many Cariocas - as Rio's residents are known - are blasé about the vote.  

Suntanned men with skimpy bathing suits and muscular physiques play volleyball on Rio de Janeiro's LeBlon beach. Helio Rocha says he resents that he is obliged by law to vote.

" I have to wake up early. It's one thing more to do," Rocha said.

Brazil endured two long dictatorships during the twentieth century, in the thirties and forties and again from 1964 to 1985.

Rocha - an engineer - says he does appreciate that democracy lets citizens choose their leaders.

But he adds: "I don't like anybody so why should I be obligated to vote for someone that I don't like."

Many Brazilians have little faith in government. Despite the many promises of politicians, crime is commonplace, corruption is endemic and the infrastructure is in danger of collapsing.

Francisco Carlos Teixeira is a professor of contemporary history at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

There are groups, and not only in the elite, but also among the general public, who are frightened by the levels of crime and living standards and believe that dictatorship is better at guaranteeing welfare and safer streets, he says.

Texeira says democracy is here to stay. But he says around 10 percent of the electorate vote for odd candidates - like singers and soccer players. And there are dozens of them in this election - including a clown named Tiririca who is running for Congress.

Some people call it a protest vote. Teixeira characterizes it differently.

I don't think it's a protest or an anti-establishment vote,he says. It's a vote of indifference. People are thinking, 'I don't want to vote. But since they are obliging me to vote, I'll vote for a clown', he adds.

Whether it is a joke or a protest, the historian says it has a long tradition. In Sao Paulo's city council election in 1959, the top vote getter among hundreds of candidates was Cacareco - a rhinoceros from the zoo.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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