The whacky affairs of Brazilian elections

With over 450,00 candidates running in Sunday’s municipal elections, there were bound to be a few jokers in the mix.

Fourteen people are running for political office in Brazil using the name Osama bin Laden. I kid you not.

Brazilian elections can be whacky affairs.

On Sunday, 138 million people go to the polls in nationwide municipal elections in 5,568 municipalities.

Last I checked, there were 451,123 candidates running for some office, on some ballot, somewhere in Brazil. With all those candidates, there are always a few jokers in the mix.

Like many other countries, Brazilians vote for the designated number of their candidate, not for the name. Names don’t mean much, numbers do. So to differentiate themselves many less-serious candidates start running under fake names in order to grab attention or make a mockery of the system…or both.

It happens every election cycle here.

A few years ago, all the fuss was about the professional clown that got elected to congress, even though he admitted he had no clue what congressmen actually do. Google “Tiririca” and you’ll see what I mean.

So this election cycle brings us the 14 bin Ladens, counted by one local news magazine that scoured deep into the nationwide candidates’ lists.

There are also 143 people running under the name Dilma after the popular president, 174 calling themselves Lula after the even-more-popular ex-president, and 16 people running as Obama.

Yes, Brazilian elections can be entertaining affairs. Low hanging fruit for nutty feature stories.

But there is some serious business as well.

Mayors will be selected in all 26 state capital cities.

With that, here is a snapshot of some of the key races on Sunday:

Sao Paulo: As the largest city in South America, and financial hub of South America’s economic giant, the Sao Paulo mayoral race is a job for heavy-hitting national candidates. For amateurs it’s not. With the incumbent not running, the latest polls show it’s a dead-heat three-way race: On the left, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party, who is getting big support from Lula da Silva, Brazil’s most popular political figure. On the right from the PSDB party is Jose Serra, a well- known political brand and former governor of Sao Paulo and twice failed presidential candidate. And finally Celso Russomanno, channeling support from evangelicals, but whose campaign gave away a comfortable double digit lead in the final weeks.

None of the candidates is likely to get the 50 per cent to win in the first round of voting. It’s likely to go to a runoff. The key to watch is if Haddad doesn’t make it to second round, does that mean Lula’s political power of influence on voters in waning?

Rio de Janeiro: As the future World Cup and Olympics city, Rio’s mayor race has – in some ways – taken on slight international interest. There are eight candidates in all, but it’s narrowed down to two key players: On one side, the young, popular, well-funded, centrist incumbent Eduardo Paes. He’s given a lot of credit for all things that are going right in Rio, and he’s got a huge coalition behind him. His strongest challenger is the leftist, anti-corruption crusader Marcelo Freixo, running an election with little money but bold ideas fueled by enthusiasm from the youth. His basic message is that too much money is being thrown around at the World Cup and Olympics preparations at the expense of health, education and services for the poor. Paes has a commanding lead, with 66 per cent of the vote in recent polls. The question is in what form Freixo’s message will carry on after the campaign, should he lose?

Belo Horizonte: The race has become important and taken on national significance because the two likely candidates in the 2014 presidential election are fighting a proxy war via this mayoral race. 

Senator Aecio Neves is the charismatic popular former governor who is supporting Marcio Lacerda’s re-election but using the opportunity to aim fire at Dilma Rousseff. Neves is currently the frontrunner to be the conservative PSBD party candidate for president in 2014, and most onlookers see him testing out early attack lines against Rousseff via his campaigning for Lacerda. In response, Rousseff went to Belo Horizonte to campaign for her candidate, Patrus Ananias, and to refute Neves. It’s the first direct square-off between the two political giants and a probable foreshadow to 2014. The polls indicate this race is too close to call, and could go to a second round.

There you have it.

Should one of the bin Laden’s win any race, I’ll be sure and let you know. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel