06 October 2010

Brazilian Democracy in Action

Sunday was election day. There were no football matches, no selling of alcohol for most of the day, and absolutely no controversy about counting the electronically submitted votes. More than 135 million Brazilians voted. The lower house of the federal government will have representatives from 22 different parties, the senate 15 parties. In Brazil, you have the option to vote for no one. Brilliant. Incredibly, there were many dozens of candidates for federal deputy in the state of Rio that didn't even vote for themselves. Their spouses didn't vote for them, their children didn't vote for them. 0 votes! That's as many as I had! From São Paulo, the USAmerican equivalent of Howdy Doody is going to Brasilia where he will be part of a governing body that includes Brazil's 1994 World Cup wining forwards, Bebeto and Romario. The green party presidential candidate, Marina Silva, managed 20% of the vote, forcing a run off between Coke and Pepsi, or if you prefer, Brahma and Skol. There will be no surprises from here on as Lula has fluffed the pillow of his cult of personality enough to ensre that Dilma will have a comfy place to lay her Gorgon-like head.

In so far as any of this has to do with the general trajectory of my reporting, nothing much changed on Sunday, but there were some small victories. Eurico Miranda, the man who stole millions from Vasco da Gama and put the team into financial ruin and the second division, did not get elected. His successor, Roberto Dinamite (a former national team player and Vasco idol), did - though I'm not sure if that is good news or just of passing interest. Rio's former mayor, Cesar Maia, only won 11% in his bid for the Senate. Now that we're all on the way to a system of urban, environmental, and social governance that thinks of return on investment first and fufilling social contracts tenth, Maia's neo-liberal interventions are no longer needed anyway. Maybe Rio 2016 will hire him to do something.

One of the people I discuss in Temples of the Earthbound Gods,  Chiquinho da Mangueira, the former head of SUDERJ, got himself elected as a state deputy just ahead of Dinamite.  Chiquino abused the image of the Maracanã in his electoral campaign more than any candidate EVER. You'd think he'd built the place himself not presided over the distrouous 2005-2007 reforms.

Did any candidate for any office at any level of government at any time during the campaign season make any comments criticizing the current craze of coughing up currency for constructing colossal and short lived mega-events? Possibly. Unlikely.

Does the voting system work in Brazil? Yes.

Is voting part of participatory democracy? Yes.

Is is sufficient? No.

I had an accidental lunch with a taxi driver today. As he sat down, he commented that the restaurant was without water. He was irate because the owner of the restaurant was so blithe about the situation. The whole neighborhood was without water, e dai? Did anyone complain? Mabye. Was there anyone listening if they did? Probably not. The taxi driver then explained how much he had to pay in taxes to drive his taxi. It was such an absurd number that I shot a black bean from my mouth into my nasal passage. Then he told me how much the flanelinhas were charging to park in Niteroi: R$20. (Fanelinhas are guys who stand on the street and "help" you park.) If you don't pay what they want, you come back and your windows are broken or your tires slashed. Lovely. R$20 is no joke to park on a street that should be free, or have a meter or have some kind of regulated system. Does anyone complain? Yes. Does the problem get addressed? Yes. In the Zona Sul of Rio. Sometimes. He told me he was with a judge one day who never paid the flanelinha, he simply parked and walked away. If something happened, he called some cops on the phone and had them arrest all of the flanelinhas in sight. It's good to be the king.

The point of all this? Democracy is not and should not be limited to the act of voting. Brazilians pay insanely high taxes for the insanely shoddy delivery of public services. The World Cup and Olympics are inherently anti-democratic events, run by anti-democratic institutions, supported by democratically elected individuals, and financed with public money, lots of it. These events and people and institutions are combining to worsen the conditions of Brazilian democracy. There is already a general sense of helplessness in the face of an impossibly complex bureaucracy that simply does not deliver what it should given the amount of money shoveled into it. When FIFA and the IOC come to town, abre a boca Galvão.

At the same time, the voting machines work. There are dozens of political parties. Political discourse is not driven by hatred of immigrants or religious groups or about which party is going to fortify the border with 15,000 or 45,000 more troops. 135 million votes in a country of 190 million is impressive, even though it's a legal requirement. People discuss their political ideas openly in the streets and aren't afraid to have friends with different political views. As with democracy, as with flamenguistas, ninguém perfeito.


yuseph said...

Good post except for the low blow directed at Flamengo.

Dr. Christopher Gaffney said...

no problem with Flamengo, its the menguistas! rs


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