Elections in Brazil

On the surface, the Brazilian election system looks a lot like our own: democracy, multiple parties, electronic ballot boxes, etc. But the sheer chaos of the last few weeks has taught me otherwise. I have been forced to reconsider my opinion about the lead-up to elections in the United States. It turns out we do not have the most obnoxious electoral system in the world. As far as I know, that honor goes to Brazil.

First of all, it is impossible not to hear about the election – it’s pretty loud. There are hundreds of cars and motorcycles in this city with speakers strapped to their hoods, paid to drive around all day, blaring campaign ads and generally deafening everyone in a two block radius. When two such cars campaigning for different candidates encounter each other, they engage in a war of one-upmanship in terms of volume, and the results are so loud that I can sit outside on my fourteenth story balcony and hear every word. Not that all of the ads are annoying – several of them have sound effects, and I am always amused by the candidate whose blurb is heralded by the sounds of Walker, Texas Ranger.

It is also impossible not to see the election. Aside from the cars, politicians also pay the poor to become walking advertisements. They don colorful t-shirts, and travel in packs waving around bright flags and screaming at passers-by. The “campaigners” are also in charge of redecorating the city, covering it with thousands upon thousands of colorful leaflets for each candidate. The roads and sidewalks in front of the polling places in particular are awash with a sea of colorful paper, and I am beginning to worry that the greatest threat to the Amazon rainforest is in fact the electoral system of Brazil.

A less amusing aspect of the election is its tendency to cause traffic jams. Driving outside the city a few weeks ago, Luisa and I were caught in a stand still. After idling for some ten minutes, we asked a man on the sidewalk if there was an accident ahead. “No,” he replied “just politics.”

It seems that the “campaigners” and the speaker-cars like to gather together for impromptu parades, stopping traffic for miles and generally enraging hapless motorists. “Well,” said Luisa “at least I know who NOT to vote for now.” And so there we have it – in last week’s election, the sensible simply voted for the politicians whom they had never heard of before. Probably not a viable solution, but it is something to keep in mind as Romney and Obama torture you with campaign materials in the coming weeks. Perhaps it is the candidate who least wastes his money and your time in campaigning that you wish to see in office.