A Brazilian clown whose punch line is “It can’t get any worse” may have his likely election to the lower house of congress nullified if he proves unable to read and write.
A new member of the Party of the Republic, Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, widely known as his character Tiririca, had the most support among candidates in Sao Paulo state, according to a Datafolha poll published Sept 19. With 3 percent backing among 30 million Sao Paulo voters, he could win up to 1 million votes on Oct. 3 in Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state. His party forms part of the coalition governing Brazil.
“What does a federal representative do? Actually, I don’t know,” he says on TV. “But vote for me and I’ll find out,” he vows, while dancing around and saying that if elected he will help the most needy, including his own family.
The smile could be wiped off Tiririca’s face even if he wins. On Sept. 25, Sao Paulo’s public prosecutor asked the state electoral court to verify if the clown is able to read and write. The request was made after Epoca magazine published a story saying that he is illiterate. Brazilian law prohibits illiterate people from running for office.
According to the magazine, the handwriting on Tiririca’s autograph is different from the text presented to the electoral court, in which he says he is literate.
Tiririca’s spokesman, Daniela Rocha, did not return calls for comment on the literacy allegations.
The corruption scandals that frequently burst from Brazil’s congress might explain why citizens are leaning toward a “protest vote,” said David Fleischer, a political analyst at the University of Brasilia. They ignore the fact that once a popular candidate wins the minimum number of votes to be elected, the rest of his support goes to other candidates from his party, Fleischer added.
“Many people have said they’ll vote for him because one clown more or less in congress won’t make any difference,” Fleischer said in telephone interview from Brasilia.
That’s the reason engineer Paulo Roberto Costa, 32, cites for his plan to vote for Tiririca. Usually a backer of the Workers’ Party of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Costa says the clown makes a good point when he says the political scene can’t get any worse.
“I’m disappointed with lawmakers in general,” Costa said in Sept. 21 telephone interview from Sao Paulo. “What do our great congressmen do that make them so much better than the clown? Besides, I’ve always found him very funny.”
Tiririca, a slang term that means “grumpy” in Portuguese, was the nickname given to Francisco by his mother because he was constantly in a bad mood as a child. Born in the northeastern state of Ceara, one of seven brothers, he started working at the age of 8 selling cotton candy and popsicles.
His career as an artist began when the town circus’s clown didn’t show up for a performance and Costa got the chance to try out. At the age of 16, he owned a different circus, whose tent later on caught fire. According to Tiririca’s official website, he went hungry before starting to perform in restaurants, birthday parties and other events.
In the 1990’s, he became popular with a song that won him a record deal and several roles on national TV programs.
“I believe all the support comes from those who identify themselves with my biography,” he said in an e-mailed interview. “With good will, honesty and hard work, I’ll be able to make the dream of helping people come true”.
On Oct. 3, more than 135 million Brazilians will choose the country’s president, state governors, senators and lower house representatives.
Besides Tiririca, Sao Paulo voters may elect as senator a popular singer called Netinho, according to polling service Ibope. Rio de Janeiro voters signal they’ll give a lower house seat to Romario, a retired soccer player who was a member of the national team when Brazil won its fourth World Cup championship in 1994, said Ibope.
“Some people might say they’re voting for somebody they know,” said Marcia Cavallari, chief executive officer of Ibope. “They’re not just protesting,” she added in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo.
Political parties are well aware that celebrities with little or no political experience can attract thousands of votes and win office not only for themselves but for lesser-known candidates in the same grouping, Cavallari said.
“That strategy captures a larger number of seats, and candidates with little support manage to get in,” she said Sept 22.
To settle the question of Tiririca’s literacy, Sao Paulo prosecutor Mauricio Antonio Ribeiro Lopes proposed a test in which the clown would have to read out loud a paragraph of the Brazilian constitution. Then he would have to write another paragraph dictated by someone. The test hasn’t been approved yet by Sao Paulo’s electoral court, said the court in an e-mailed statement.
“There’s no time to change the ballots now,” Fleischer said. “If Tiririca’s candidacy is thrown out, all the votes he gets will be null.”
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