Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Grumpy about voting reform

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 23, 2011

by H.J. for The Economist – Americas View, February 22nd, 2011.

Brazil’s system for electing its lower house of Congress, known as the “open list”, is a global oddity. Voters are asked to choose between individual candidates. But any politician who receives more votes than the “electoral quotient”—the total vote cast divided by the number of representatives to be seated—will see that excess redistributed to fellow members of his party or coalition. The advantage is that parties are represented in close proportion to their share of the vote. The disadvantages, however, are legion. Today Brazil’s Senate established a political reform committee that will consider changing the system in order to make it, in the words of the Senate’s leader, José Sarney, “legitimate” and not just “legal”.

The personification of the open list’s flaws is Tiririca (pictured), a singer and clown whose name, loosely translated, means Grumpy. He was elected in October to represent the state of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest, receiving 1.3m votes. His campaign ads showed him jumping around in a multi-coloured suit and blonde wig, with slogans such as: “Vote for me! It couldn’t get any worse”, and “What does a federal deputy do? I don’t know, but vote for me and I’ll find out.” He only just scraped through the literacy test he had to take when some ex-colleagues on a television show claimed he couldn’t read or write (Brazil bars illiterates from high office). Since taking his seat he has performed roughly as expected: he accidentally opposed the government in last week’s vote to set the minimum wage by pushing the wrong button.

The 1.3m votes for Tiririca were obviously mostly a protest against politics as usual. But as such they were particularly misconceived. Three fellow members of his “nano-party” (partido nanico, in Portuguese) made it into Congress on the strength of his vote, despite lacking enough support to get in on their own. There is a Portuguese expression for eye-catching types put on a party’s ticket just so that non-entities get elected: they are puxadores de votos, or “vote-pullers”. (continue reading… )



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