Brazil is having a presidential election this Sunday. Unlike the United States, where in some ways it feels as if politicians never stop campaigning, here in Brazil the campaign season is rigidly controlled by rules that date back some 20 years. For example, the major networks are allowed to give only one minute of daily campaign coverage to each candidate once the allowed campaign season is in swing (which this year started on August 9th and will run until election day, October 5th). Television and radio commercials air three times a week in two 25-minute blocks, all paid for by the Brazilian taxpayers. (This free air time is divided up between the political parties using a very complicated formula, please don’t ask.) Mark and I can’t vote, of course, not being citizens. But the taxes we pay help fund this folderol.
How dare I call it folderol? I dare. This is my fourth Brazilian presidential election as an observer. And I observe, as any sane Brazilian observes, that it is during this 58-day period, and almost exclusively during this 58-day period, that the words "education, schools, health, hospitals, sanitation, and security" are on every politician’s lips. There’s more at stake than just the presidential chair, and a horde of would-be senators, governors, deputies and councilmen are joining the presidential candidates in making exactly the same promises that have been made for years. Brazil needs more hospitals, vote for me because I promise to build them. Brazil needs better education, vote for me because I promise to take care of that. Brazil’s infrastructure is still primitive, vote for me because I promise to build better roads and bridges. Corruption in Brazil is pervasive and the bad guys have too much immunity, vote for me because I promise to change that. Yadda yadda yadda.
Posters, folders, stickers, campaign materials of all stripes are being tacked onto every available wall and post. Funny, though, there have been very strong wind storms in the last few weeks here in Búzios, so at least here all this material has blown down. And I must say, we’re kind of liking it as litter on the streets rather than in our faces. We can turn off the radio when the political block of time begins, we can turn off the television, too, but we unfortunately can’t escape the cars fitted out with huge speakers, blasting political jingles over and over and over. And what I really wanted to see during the course of this campaign were the televised debates. But believe it or not, there’s no one trustworthy place where voters can get information about the debate schedule. Brazil needs a nice, neutral League of Women Voters!
Some politicians love the campaigning more than they love the governing, but the current president, Presidente Dilma, seems to be at her most uncomfortable right now. At her best she is taken to be a dour, unsmiling bureaucrat, but now her party, the PT, has been trying valiantly to humanize her. They’re making her smile more, though it’s obvious how uncomfortable that is for her. She’s even been forced to tape a series of cooking videos, even though she’s famous for not wanting or knowing how to cook. So far she’s kinda sorta made an omelet and some pasta.
Anyway, it’s only a few more days now before all the vote-for-me ads disappear from print, radio and television. Voting is obligatory in Brazil, and Brazilians are gearing up to do their duty. And since voting in Brazil is done quickly and efficiently on electronic voting machines, we’ll all know within minutes who won or, if no one manages a majority, who will continue to compete in a second round to be held October 26th. Right now all the polls indicate that the second round will be between Dilma and Marina Silva, and Marina has a strong chance of pulling it off. Wow. Brazil’s first black, evangelical, pulled-herself-up-by-her-bootstraps woman president. That’ll be worth a few blogs!