September 29, 2010
Brazil’s elections show progress with democracy, and lingering problems
In January, Brazil will see, for the second time in its history, an elected president passing his presidential sash to another elected president, indicating a consolidation of democracy in a country marked by coups. Brazil has been steadily improving its democracy. Electronic voting and e-government, for example, have helped to minimize corruption and engage citizens in governmental decisions. Today it’s also possible to follow how public money is being used: States and cities with populations over 100,000 are now required to reveal their revenues and expenses in real time, including the federal government (although implementation has been slow in some areas).
Some of these digital democracy initiatives are showcased in a recent Mashable article, “How Brazil Is Blazing a Trail for Electronic Democracy.” Participation isn’t yet widespread (less than 10 percent of the population participate), but these are indications that Brazilian democracy is growing into adulthood. The Internet is also helping to build democratic engagement among citizens. The Clean Record initiative—banning anyone with criminal convictions from running for office—was approved after great popular support on the Internet, and organizations are using this medium to promote conscious voting.
Despite the good news, democracy is proving to be a steep learning curve. One example is the number of corrupt and non-serious candidates leading in the polls. One is senate candidate Netinho, famous as a singer in a samba band and accused of abusing his ex-wife. In Sao Paulo, Tiririca, a former humorist with no political experience whose literacy is being questioned, has said things like, “You don’t know what a deputy does? Me either, but vote for me and I’ll tell you.”
One reason for the success of such candidates is the general population’s confusion about the responsibilities of congressmen. For example, a recent poll by Ibope and the weekly publication Epoca found that 75 percent of respondents mistakenly believed elected officials are responsible for urban infrastructure and public projects (actually the domain of governors, mayors and the president) and 61 percent think it’s a congressman’s duty to help campaign contributors win government projects. Here in Brazil the hope is that with economic growth, more people will gain access to education and demand more from their representatives through digital democracy and at the ballot box.
Photo credit: SergioAraujoPereira