Literacy test dims clown's bid for Brazil congress

Brazilians seem eager to put a clown in Congress, according to the polls. But the courts are taking a less jovial look at a new report that the comic doesn't meet a legal requirement that lawmakers be able to read and write.

The Brazilian Constitution mandates that members of Congress must be literate, and prosecutors said Monday they want to force Tiririca — a name that means "grumpy" in colloquial Portuguese — to disprove the allegations. Otherwise, he could be tossed from office if he wins.

Tiririca, whose real name is Francisco Silva, has been this electoral season's hit in Brazil, drawing millions of viewers on YouTube to his campaign ads. His slogans include, "It can't get any worse," and "What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don't know. But vote for me and you'll find out."

Polls show he is likely to win more votes for Brazil's lower house than any other candidate, upward of 1 million ballots.

But this weekend, Epoca magazine reported that people who have worked with Silva on his TV shows and a book credited to him say he is illiterate, like about 10% of Brazil's population.

A video on Epoca's website shows a reporter reading questions from an election poll to Silva. He is then asked to read one of the questions himself. Visibly shaken, he hesitates before campaign aides rush to the rescue and read it for him.

Silva's campaign press manager Daniela Rocha did not immediately return e-mailed requests for comment Monday.

The Epoca report cited an unnamed campaign manager as saying Silva knows how to read, but that backers would not make him available to prove it.

Now, however, Silva may have to prove it before a judge. Prosecutor Pedro Barbosa has asked an electoral court to intervene. If he fails to convince a judge he can read and write, Barbosa said, Silva could be removed from office.

In a statement, Sao Paulo's electoral court said Silva's candidacy could not be stopped before the vote because the court had already approved his application to run for Congress — which includes a document in which Silva swears he can read and write.

Epoca obtained Silva's written statement to the court and samples of autographs he gave to fans and reported the signatures are vastly different, with the autographs looking like illegible circles.

The effort to get Silva elected, despite his profession, is serious business.

Under Brazil's election laws, the 513-seat lower house of Congress is filled using an open-list proportional representation system that allocates seats to parties according to the total number of votes their candidates win.

As an extremely popular candidate who stands to win three times as many votes as his nearest competitor, a big win by Silva could pull in another three or four candidates from his party, which is in a coalition with the ruling Workers Party.

(Published by USA Today – September 28, 2010)

latest top stories

subscribe |  contact us |  sponsors |  migalhas in portuguese |  migalhas latinoamérica