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Sunday, October 03, 2004


Brazilian Elections

Since I blogged about the political posters in Rio, it's only fair that I follow up with an explanation of why those posters got there.

It seems that it's election season in Brazil: not at federal level, but at state and municipal level. (it's not just in Rio: I saw election posters in Buzios and Foz, and a few days ago I saw a story on Bloomberg News covering the re-election campaign of the mayor of Sao Paolo, a former sexologist. (Everyone gets screwed by their government, but at least in Sao Paolo you get screwed by an expert.))

In the US, libertarians and such people like to joke that elections are a contest between Socialist Party A and Socialist Party B. Well, in Brazil, you also have Socialist Parties C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and a bunch of other Socialist Parties that I forget the letters of. No kidding, every single Brazilian political party appears to have the word "socialist" or "social" in its name, except for one or two that have the word "workers" instead, just for variety. There are so many parties, in fact, that they have to have numbers: 13 is the number of the Partido Travalho, which controls the federal government, and 25 is the number of the party that the mayor of Rio belongs to. I don't know the name of this party but I certainly know that the mayor is called Cesar Maia. And how do I know this? Because:

1. The city is full of posters advertising the merits (or at any rate, the names and faces) of rival candidates for the city council. These candidates are endorsed by various political parties, but at least 70% of them have a sort of footnote endorsing Sr Maia for mayor.
2. The night I went to Circo do Voador there was a major club night in a venue down the street. The promoter had spared no effort. There was a battalion of spokesmodels outside, handing out flyers and drinks coupons. The name of this promotor was displayed on a big banner outside the venue, and written on all the flyers just in case anyone forgot. The name was Cesar Maia.

The rival candidates for mayor do not appear to have such deep pockets, although the PT candidate threw a sort of small-scale street party outside my hotel the day I flew back to London. Of course, all of these people have other ways of getting their message across. For example, they have vans that drive up and down the avenues playing jingles, and there is always the old propeller-driven-plane-trailing-a-banner lark, or for variety you could get a resident of a top-floor apartment to unroll a 50-foot banner from his balcony.

The impression I went away with is that Brazilian politics mostly involves finding new ways to almost-but-not-quite bribe the voters, and as far as this goes, I am all for it. It is certainly more useful than anything a British politician ever does. And, seriously, the Brazilian system seems to work. The streets are clean, the beaches are well-maintained, the buses run on time (and on two wheels, whenever they take a corner), there are plenty of fairly cheap taxis and there are cops and renta-cops everywhere.

Let's just say, and this is something that really leaps out at you:

In Rio, you can't go five minutes without seeing a city employee picking up garbage.
In London, you can't go five minutes without seeing a city employee slapping parking tickets on cars.

Where would you rather live?

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