Send in the clown. That's the message voters in Brazil's largest state have sent to Congress.
With 1.3 million ballots cast in his favour, a professional clown named Tiririca won more votes than any other candidate in Sunday's elections. It's the second-highest tally ever recorded in Brazil's history.
"It's amazing, this is from God," he said after the vote.
Tiririca's bid to represent Sao Paulo state in the Chamber of Deputies was widely supported as a symbolic protest against government corruption and scandals. Tiririca, whose moniker is Portuguese slang for "grumpy," campaigned on the slogan "Vote Tiririca! It can't get any worse."
He pitched policy ideas such as tax breaks for circuses. In one of his commercials, he pleaded for voters' blessings so that he could help the needy, "including my family."
He was born Francisco Oliveira Silva in the impoverished northeastern state of Ceara. At eight years old, he sold cotton candy at a local circus. He later became a popular clown and comedian on national television.
The clown may soon be back to his grumpy self, however, plagued by a scandal of his own. The constitution requires that lawmakers be able to read and write, and the weekly newsmagazine Epoca alleged in a recent article that Tiririca is illiterate. A last-minute legal challenge failed to remove him from the ballot, but electoral authorities say he could still lose his congressional seat if his literacy is lacking.
Whether Tiririca takes his seat could affect the power balance in the next Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber's "open-list" system of proportional representation allocates seats to parties based on the total number of votes won by their candidates. Tiririca's whopping victory means four or more fellow candidates from his Party of the Republic (PR) could ride into office on his coattails.
Critics complain that the open-list system favours celebrity or novelty candidates, but novelty is no guarantee of success. Adriely Fatal, a 23-year-old stripper who attracted some media attention, failed to win a seat in the Ceara state assembly. A member of the Christian Workers Party, Ms. Fatal had pledged to open a strip club in every town.
If this year's campaign was marked by more levity and humour than those in the past, it wasn't just thanks to Tiririca. In August, the Supreme Court suspended a legal restriction that forbids television and radio broadcasters from making fun of candidates and political parties. The law was a bizarre relic of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
Now everyone, the Supreme Court ruled, can be in on the joke.
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