Cablegate: Brazil's Municipal Election Primer - Part I

Published: Mon 3 May 2004 03:45 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. This is Part I of a two-part series on Brazil's October
municipal elections. This cable describes the structure and
implementation of the elections, and Part II examines the
various races in play around the country.
2. On October 3, Brazilians go to the polls to select the
Mayors and City Councils of all of the 5,560 municipalities
in the country. These elections are important on two levels:
they are an interim report card on the popularity of the
Lula administration and the various parties, and they will
bring to power the local officials who are key to
implementing national programs and maintaining grass-roots
party strength. In many municipalities --particularly the
big cities-- the elections will also have an impact on
national party coalitions into the future. Brazil's
constitution regulates all elections and their timing, so
that the President/Federal Congress and Governors/State
Assemblies are up for election every four years (i.e., 2002,
2006), while the Mayors and City Councils are elected in the
off-cycles (i.e., 2004, 2008). All elected officials in
Brazil serve four-year terms, except Federal Senators who
serve eight years. Executive officials, including Mayors,
can serve only two consecutive terms. As described below,
Brazil uses a combination of majority and plurality voting
(for executive offices, meaning a second round may be
necessary); and proportional voting for open party lists (for
legislative offices). The electoral process, including the
calendar and campaign propaganda, is tightly regulated and
overseen by a hierarchy of Electoral Tribunals. END SUMMARY
3. The Mayors and Vice Mayors (elected on a slate) and
unicameral City Councils in each of Brazil's 5,560
municipalities are up for election on October 3.
Municipalities range in size from the city of Sao Paulo with
10.4 million people to towns of a thousand inhabitants. 226
municipalities have populations greater than 100,000. City
Councils in small towns have authorities basically limited to
community health, primary education, and municipal fee
collection. City Councils range in size from 7 to 55
members, depending on the town's population. The average
municipality has 32,000 inhabitants and 13 Council members.
The exact number of Council members to be elected this year
has yet to be determined, because a recent Supreme Electoral
Tribunal (TSE) ruling recalibrated the number of Council
members per municipality. That ruling would cut the number
of Council members nationwide from 60,300 to 51,700. While
this would be a significant cost savings, particularly in
small towns, the parties in Congress are loathe to see so
many seats evaporate. They are hurrying to pass a
constitutional amendment that could result in 55,200
Councilpersons nationwide. The amendment must pass by June
10 to overcome the TSE decision and affect this year's
4. The electoral calendar is established by the TSE. For
those unfamiliar with the closely-regulated process, the
dates are instructive.
June 10-30, 2004 - Convention season: coalitions and
candidate lists finalized.
July 1 - Broadcast propaganda blackout begins. No paid
propaganda, polls, or programming favoring a candidate on
radio or TV.
July 3 - Ban on hiring and firing of public servants; ban on
institutional publicity (e.g., public officials inaugurating
public works).
July 6 - First day of propaganda period, including rallies,
posters and, sadly, sound trucks.
Aug 17-Sept 30 - Period of free broadcast propaganda on TV
and radio (see paras 5-6).
Sept 18 - Start of period during which no candidate can be
arrested, unless caught in the act of a crime.
Sept 30 - Last day of broadcast propaganda, political rallies
and debates.
Oct 2 - Last day for sound trucks and pamphleteering.
Oct 3 - ELECTION DAY (first round), polls open 8:00 am -5:00
pm. Within hours after polls close, results transmitted from
nearly all 355,000 computerized voting booths to the TSE in
Brasilia, which will release partial vote counts that
Second-round procedures (where necessary) similar to first
round. Oct 18-30 is free broadcast propaganda period.
Oct 31 - ELECTION DAY (second round, where necessary).
5. Election propaganda is tightly controlled in placement
and content. Placement runs from outdoor billboards to
broadcast media to sound trucks, each with its own set of
regulations. For example, billboard owners must register
their signs by June 25 with the local electoral judge, who
then holds a lottery to distribute the billboards randomly to
candidates. Sound trucks must stop broadcasting at 10 pm and
cannot be within 200 meters of government offices or
hospitals. Rallies must end at midnight. Rules are
specific: propaganda cannot incite a state of passion nor
try to trick voters, cannot defame an opponent or disrespect
national symbols (nor provoke animosity toward the military).
Posters can be hung from bridges but not trees. After the
election, each campaign must clean up its posters from public
spaces. Parties monitor each other and are quick to complain
to electoral judges about violations.
6. The free broadcast propaganda is a uniquely successful
Brazilian institution. Visiting US congresspersons, who may
spend 90% of their campaign funds on TV time, express
admiration for a system that provides free airtime to all
candidates, thus reducing the need for incessant fundraising
and the influence of donors. From Aug 17 to Sept 30, mayoral
races get airtime on Mon, Wed, and Fri; while City Council
races have time on Tues, Thurs, and Sat. The radio slots on
these days are 7:00-7:30am and 12:00-12:30pm. The TV times
are 1:00-1:30pm plus the key 8:30-9:00pm prime time slot.
The ads run on all channels simultaneously. The minutes
within these periods are distributed to the parties according
to a formula mostly based on the size of the party caucuses
in the Federal Chamber of Deputies, while still assuring that
microparties get a few seconds of precious airtime each day.
Parties in coalitions can merge their allotted times. Thus
the large PT, PMDB, PFL, and PSDB parties may run five or
seven-minute ads each day. The system is closely policed by
all parties, with complaints quickly adjudicated by electoral
judges who mete out punishments by docking seconds or minutes
of airtime.
7. Public opinion polls are also tightly controlled.
Beginning on January 1, polling agencies must register each
poll with the electoral tribunals both before and after
distributing the results. The registration includes poll
results, who contracted the survey, costs and methodology.
Candidates have the right to challenge a poll to an electoral
judge, who can order a polling firm to open its records,
suspend a survey, or clarify results already released.
Pollsters breaking the rules can be heavily fined.
8. There are no limits on donations or spending. Campaigns
must register their financial committes with the Electoral
Tribunal, and thirty days after the election they must file
their financial statements. Funds can come from the
candidates themselves, personal or corporate donations, or
fund-raising events. Donations cannot come from foreign
entities or public funds. Donations must be identified by
origin. Unidentified donations cannot be spent in the
campaign, though they can be retained by the party and used
to fund party research or think-tanks.
9. Campaign financing rules are fairly lax by US standards
and --owing to the free TV time-- the sums involved are
modest: in the 2002 elections for President/Federal Congress
and Governors/State Assemblies, 19,000 candidates spent a
declared total of R$830 million (about USD208 million, or
about USD 11,000 per candidate). Yet there are frequent
allegations of illegal campaign financing and the so-called
"caixa dois" ("second drawer"), i.e., secret campaign slush
funds. For example, the Waldomiro Diniz scandal that erupted
in February 2004 involved a political advisor to President
Lula who allegedly solicited bribes from numbers racketeers
in 2002 to funnel into Workers' Party campaigns; the
allegations have not been verified. Similarly, last week (a
year and a half after the case was filed) the Supreme
Electoral Tribunal cleared Brasilia Governor Joaquim Roriz of
charges that he funded his 2002 campaign with R$48 million in
public money funneled through local institutions and
consultants. A political reform bill that would provide a
fixed pot of public money to finance all campaigns is now in
Congress but will not pass this year.
10. Brazil's elections are overseen by a hierarchy of
electoral tribunals. At the top is the Supreme Electoral
Court (TSE), an ad hoc body comprising seven members: three
judges from the Supreme Federal Court, two from the Supreme
Justice Court, and two lawyers, all serving two-year terms on
the tribunal. Below the TSE are twenty-seven Regional
Electoral Courts (TREs), one in each state; and below the
TREs are electoral judges in each municipality and citizens'
voting boards at each polling place.
11. Voting in Brazil is mandatory for citizens 18-70 years
old and is optional for the illiterate, those 16 to 18, and
those over 70. Military conscripts cannot vote. There will
be about 112 million eligible voters this year. In general,
Brazilian executive offices (President, Governor, Mayor) are
elected by majority voting, meaning that if no candidate
surpasses 50% of valid votes in the first round, the top two
candidates go to a second-round runoff. However, in a
cost-saving measure, plurality voting is used in the 96% of
municipalities that have less than 200,000 voters (thus,
U.S.-style, the leading first-round candidate becomes mayor,
even if she receives less than 50% of the vote). Therefore,
there may be just a few dozen second-round mayoral runoffs
this year. All mayors will be sworn in on January 1, 2005.
12. Selection of legislatures, including City Councils, is
done by a complicated open list proportional voting system,
in which citizens can cast votes either for parties or
candidates. There are no wards for municipal elections, all
candidates run citywide. A hypothetical city of 1 million
residents (i.e., about 620,000 voters) would have a City
Council of 21 members. If 20% of voters do not show up or
cast null votes, then there is a pool of 500,000 valid votes,
meaning that each of the 21 Council seats would require
23,800 votes. Each party then totals up the votes it
receives both as a party and for its individual candidates.
If a party fails to reach 23,800 total votes, it does not win
any seats at this stage and its votes are "lost". If a party
receives 47,600 (i.e., 23,800 x 2) votes, then it wins two
seats; if a party wins 71,400 (i.e., 23,800 x 3) votes, then
it wins three seats, etc., distributed in order of the
candidates receiving most votes. (Thus the system is "open
list", rather than a "closed" system where the candidates are
selected in fixed order pre-determined by the party.) By
mathematical necessity, once all the parties that earned
multiples of 23,800 votes receive the seats to which they are
entitled, a few seats will be left over. At this point, the
votes that were "lost" earlier in the process are reviewed,
and the final few seats are distributed to the parties
receiving the most "lost" votes, even though the total is
less than 23,800 per seat (meaning that microparties can win
seats at this stage). One oft-criticized by-product of this
system is that popular candidates can win so many votes that
they will be able to "pull in" more candidates from their own
party. For example, if a candidate personally wins 71,400
votes, her party wins three seats even if the rest of its
candidates receive no votes at all.
13. Nationwide, Brazil uses uniform state-of-the art
domestically produced electronic voting urns that, since
their introduction in 1996, have suffered no verified cases
of fraud. The urns are simple (resembling a cash register)
and durable (some will arrive at Amazonian polling stations
by canoe). When the polls close at 5:00pm on election day,
each of the 355,000 machines will print out its results on
paper slips (for local party officials to inspect) and on a
floppy disc, which the local electoral judge will immediately
use to transmit the results to the Regional and Supreme
Electoral Tribunals by secure intranet link. Results, urn by
urn and municipality by municipality, are later made
available on the internet for inspection and challenge.
Within hours, the parties and media will have done the
complicated calculations and fairly comprehensive preliminary
results will be publicly available.
14. Part II of this series will examine the various mayoral
races in play around Brazil.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media