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Brazil’s recurring phenomenon of joke candidates

. Aug 16, 2018
Brazil 2018 election joke candidates presidential race voting Cabo Daciolo is one of 2018's joke candidates

It has been 36 years since Brazil returned to a widely competitive electoral system, after roughly two decades of authoritarianism. During the military dictatorship, electoral competition was not completely suppressed, although severely hampered. A symbol of the new democratic era was the return of a multi-partisan system.

Multi-partisanship had previously existed during two periods of Brazilian history: the First Republic (between 1889 and 1930), which was marked by local parties that held near monopolies in each state, and the post-war Second Republic (between 1945 and 1964). Sandwiched in the middle of those two eras was the authoritarian rule of Getúlio Vargas.

The return of political competition increased the importance of television and radio broadcasts for the outcome of the election. Brazilian political parties are entitled to free airtime for all positions – although elections for the executive branch receive much more exposure and attention. Airtime, however, is not equally distributed among candidates (as it is in France, for instance). Instead, big parties with more congressional seats get the lion’s share of the television and radio ad time. It allows these parties to create more elaborate films – which in turn made television ads the most expensive part of campaigns.

</span></p> <h2>Joke candidates: a way to get attention</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For smaller parties, or even for politicians in congressional races (which have way more candidates), there&#8217;s not much time left. So, to draw attention to themselves, some politicians turn to the outrageous &#8211; or the flat-out bizarre. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Candidates for a lower house seat must try to stand out and grab voters&#8217; attention in only a handful of seconds. While many candidates shout they will defend &#8220;family values,&#8221; or that they will promote &#8220;health care, education, and security,&#8221; others try to highlight their professional background. One group, however, chooses to appear in bizarre costumes, madly shouting a catchphrase, or acting out some pathetic scene. With time, that inevitably became part of Brazil&#8217;s folklore and has become an incredibly fertile source for satire (and memes).</span></p> <p>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzHA29hb-IA</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While these joke candidates exist in all parties, this phenomenon is more frequent in smaller political families, which are more prone to having poorly prepared candidates. In those parties, joke candidates are not only fighting for congressional seats &#8211; but are often in high-profile races. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One of them has become an icon: Enéas Carneiro, a cardiologist who ran for president in 1994 and 1998 &#8211; then for mayor of São Paulo and Congress. He had a striking and peculiar look, with a bald head, huge black beard, and thick glasses. Mr. Carneiro used his 30 seconds of airtime to bring an energetic prose &#8211; often ranting ultra-nationalist and conservative proposals. His sign off would always involve looking down the camera and frantically shouting: &#8220;My name is Enéas!!!&#8221; </span></p> <p><iframe title="Meu nome é Enéas, 56" width="1200" height="900" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WCEqN_E4f6o?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Carneiro did make some strides &#8211; reaching third place in the 1994 presidential race (ending up with over 7 percent of the votes), then getting 1.5 million votes for a congressional seat for the state of São Paulo &#8211; helping his party elect five other representatives. Some people voted for him as a joke, but there were those who considered Mr. Carneiro an intelligent nationalist.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In more recent presidential elections, Brazilian voters have been amused by Levy Fidelix, a less-successful version of Enéas Carneiro. Mr. Fidelix controls a dwarf political group, the Brazilian Labor Renewal Party (PRTB). Election after election, the man with a characteristic mustache died on his feet with one only idea: connecting Brazil through several bullet train lines (what he called the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">aerotrem</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, or the &#8220;airtrain&#8221;).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Four years ago, Mr. Fidelix surfed the <a href="https://brazilian.report/2017/10/18/brazil-rising-authoritarianism/">conservative wave</a> to gain more prominence, essentially by criticizing left-wing identity politics and adopting a homophobic discourse (for which he had to pay a BRL 25,000 fine for illegal bigotry). This time around, Mr. Fidelix won&#8217;t be on the ballot, as he is rallying <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2018/08/tentamos-chegar-ao-poder-pelo-voto-diz-bolsonaro-ao-lado-de-vice-militar.shtml">behind</a> far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro.</span></p> <h2>From joke candidate to the mainstream</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In other times, perhaps Jair Bolsonaro would also <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/07/31/far-right-bolsonaro-roda-viva/">be placed in the group of joke candidates</a>. Recently, he started to be taken more seriously by the electorate and is repeating in Brazil the grotesque populist phenomenon we&#8217;ve seen in other countries. In this 2018 election straight out of Bizarro World, Mr. Bolsonaro is not even the weirdest presidential candidate on the ballot. That title must go to Cabo Daciolo, a Rio de Janeiro firefighter, from the Patriot party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Even by Brazilian standards, Daciolo&#8217;s political party has a curious story. Once called the National Ecology Party, earlier this year, it held negotiations to launch Mr. Bolsonaro for the presidency. The far-right candidate demanded the party to drop its environmentalist branding &#8211; but then backpedaled and decided to join another equally small party. Without Mr. Bolsonaro, the Patriot party decided to go with Cabo Daciolo at the eleventh hour. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The firefighter&#8217;s political résumé begins with a strike he led in Rio de Janeiro &#8211; after occupying a barracks building, he was briefly detained. His antics made him a hero for some &#8211; and his status as a union leader granted him a congressional seat for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). His relationship with the party was rocky from the get-go due to his conservative tendencies (which PSOL apparently didn&#8217;t know about), and ended after he wanted to amend the Constitution, replacing the phrase &#8220;all power comes from the people&#8221; by &#8220;all power comes from God.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">His participation in the <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/08/10/brazil-presidential-debate-2018-election/">first presidential debate</a> &#8211; as well as his presence in social media &#8211; has stunned (and entertained) many thanks to his defense of absurd conspiracy theories that would make a Dan Brown book seems realistic. He fears the Freemasons, the Illuminati (who are apparently out to murder him), the São Paulo Forum (a conference of leftist political parties and other organizations from Latin America), and a so-called leftist plan to create the Union of the Latin American Socialist Republics &#8211; a local version of the USSR, uniting the entire region within one single, socialist country. Instant meme material. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides, Cabo Daciolo often finishes his lines with the catchphrase &#8220;in honor and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ&#8221; &#8211; even during the presidential debate. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As the campaign starts, some Cabo Daciolo anecdotes have come to light &#8211; further stunning voters. During one lower house sitting, he tried (while holding a Bible) to cure a tetraplegic congresswoman &#8211; saying that thanks to his faith she would immediately start walking again (video below). So far, though, his prophecy hasn&#8217;t come to fruition.</span></p> <p>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcVrUM00jrw</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Without a doubt, Cabo Daciolo surpasses other joke candidates by a mile &#8211; and even seems to believe what he says. What is intriguing is why his party wanted to launch him for president in the first place. In the short term, it is unlikely that his candidacy will bring any real gain for the party &#8211; except dragging it into ridicule. But maybe in a future election, Cabo Daciolo could get the votes of people who are so fed up with the political system that they would be willing to vote for the oddest candidate available, as a form of protest.

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Claudio Couto

Political scientist, head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Master’s program in Public Policy and Administration.

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