tuesday, 18 september of 2012

Brazil elections: Where Daniel the Cuckold and Zig Zag Clown vie for office

Brazil elections

Where Daniel the Cuckold and Zig Zag Clown vie for office

Batman is running for office in the Brazilian city of Uberlândia. Not one but two James Bonds are seeking city council seats, in Ponta Grossa and Birigui. Elsewhere in Brazil, voters are being urged to cast ballots for candidates with names like Daniel the Cuckold and Elvis Didn't Die.

Brazil has nurtured one of the world's most vibrant democracies since its military dictatorship ended in 1985. As campaigning for municipal elections in October intensifies, this vitality is evident on the ballots, which reflect Brazil's remarkably loose restrictions on what candidates can call themselves.

Ballots are filled with superhero names (five Batmans are running this year), mangled versions of American television characters (like the Macgaiver running in Espírito Santo State, inspired by the "MacGyver" secret-agent series), and an array of raunchy nicknames.

"It's a marketing strategy, a political program, because if I said Geraldo Custódio, no one was going to recognize me," said Geraldo Custódio, 38, a teacher of driver's education who is running for city council with the name Geraldo Wolverine in Piracicaba, an industrial city in São Paulo State.

Mr. Custódio said he had gotten the nickname of Wolverine, after the Marvel comics character, when he tried out for the reality television show "Big Brother Brazil." He did not make it on the show, but the sideburns he adopted, along with his big build, made the nickname stick. He now campaigns with long metal talons. One of his ads says, "Vote for the guy who has claws!"

Creatively named candidates with talons might raise eyebrows elsewhere, but this is Brazil, a proudly relaxed country when it comes to the names of its politicians.

Consider the president, Dilma Rousseff, almost universally referred to by her first name. Her immediate predecessor incorporated his childhood nickname, Lula ("squid"), into his full name, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Calling him Mr. da Silva here raises hackles. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the president from 1995 through 2002, is commonly referred to as Fernando Henrique or by his initials, F.H.C., but rarely by his last name.

Some candidates in local elections jump on the bandwagon of a well-known politician, explaining, perhaps, why dozens of candidates across Brazil named Luiz or Luis have incorporated "Lula" into their own campaign names. Then there are the hat tips to overseas personages, reflected in the 16 Obamas running in Brazil this year. Popular culture and religion also inspire: Ladi Gaga (sic) is running in Santo André, in the São Paulo area, while Christ of Jerusalem (a k a Omedino Pantoja da Silva) lost a municipal election in Porto Velho, an Amazonian city, in 2008.

"I think Barack Obama is more than a politician; he is an icon," said Gerson Januário de Almeida, 44, an administrative assistant in the public health system who is running for city council with the name "Obama BH" in Belo Horizonte, one of Brazil's largest cities.

Mr. de Almeida said he had come by his nickname when American tourists riding the cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro remarked that he bore a striking resemblance to the American president. Since then, Mr. de Almeida said, he has earned additional income doing freelance gigs posing as Mr. Obama's doppelgänger at promotional events.

There are some limits to the names Brazilians can choose when running for office. The law stipulates that the names chosen should correspond to the candidates' nicknames or how they are commonly referred to.

Judges in some cities have had enough of some especially bizarre or vulgar-sounding election names, issuing injunctions to keep them off ballots. And electoral courts have tried to prevent candidates from using the names of state-controlled companies and other bureaucratic entities.

This has not stopped some candidates from trying. Israel Soares, a candidate in São Paulo State, is running as National Institute of Social Security's Defender of the People.

Such names may attract attention in a complex political system with more than 20 parties of various ideological stripes, but seasoned electoral strategists say they seem to offer little more than a sideshow in many races.

"I don't know if I would advise my clients to do it," said Justino Pereira, a political consultant in São Paulo who has advised numerous candidates in municipal elections, including one named Palhaço Zig Zag (Zig Zag Clown), who lost.

Mr. Pereira said candidates were particularly inspired after another clown popular on television under the stage name Tiririca, which roughly translates as "Grumpy," won a seat in Congress. (Relatively few people know his real name, Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva.) "Using nicknames is an easy way to draw attention," Mr. Pereira said, "but doesn't necessarily make a lasting effect."

Of course, some candidates in a country with such a whimsical approach to names have no need to resort to wild nicknames. These aspirants for office already have colorful names bestowed by their parents, reflecting the attention paid in the past in Brazil to some foreign political figures.

Jimmi Carter Santarém Barroso is running in Amazonas State; John Kennedy Abreu Sousa is running in Maranhão, in Brazil's northeast; and Chiang Kai Xeque Braga Barroso — whose first name evokes Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese rival in the mid-20th century to Mao Zedong — is seeking to be elected in Tocantins State.

(Published by NY Times - September 16, 2012)

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