Clown elected to Brazilian Congress must prove he can read and write, judge rules

By Stan Lehman, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Brazil clown may be barred from Congress

SAO PAULO — The clown who got more votes than any other candidate for Congress will have to convince authorities he can read and write if he wants to take office.

In a ruling posted on the Sao Paulo electoral court’s website Tuesday, a judge found there is sufficient doubt about whether comic performer Tiririca — which means “grumpy” in Portuguese — meets a constitutional mandate that federal lawmakers be literate.

Tiririca, whose real name is Francisco Silva, will have 10 days after being notified of the ruling to prove his literacy through a written defense. If it fails, he will be barred from taking up his seat representing Sao Paulo in Congress.

Silva’s run for office attracted wide coverage in the news media, and his online campaign videos drew millions of viewers, with slogans such as “It can’t get any worse” and “What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and you’ll find out.”

But a week before the election, Epoca magazine reported that people who worked with Silva on his TV shows and a book credited to him say he is illiterate, as is 10 percent of Brazil’s population.

A video on Epoca’s website shows a reporter reading questions from an election poll to Silva. He is then asked to read one of the questions himself. Visibly shaken, he hesitates before campaign aides rush to the rescue.

Prosecutors asked the Sao Paulo electoral court to intervene last week, but it said Silva’s candidacy could not be stopped because the court had approved his application to run for Congress, including a document in which Silva swears he can read and write.

After Sunday’s election in which the clown received about 1.3 million votes — nearly twice the tally of the next-highest vote-getter in Brazil’s congressional races — prosecutors refiled their motion.

Judge Aloisio Silveira ruled that there were discrepancies between Silva’s written statement and autographs he gave to fans, and he must therefore demonstrate to the court that he can read and write.

Silva’s campaign-press manager did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

Vladimir Porfirio, spokesman for Silva’s political party, declined to comment on the ruling but said the campaign met all legal requirements.

“We are ready to prove the rigorous legality of his candidacy,” Porfirio said.

If Silva is barred from office, the votes he received will be declared invalid and a complex formula will be used to redistribute the congressional seats at stake.

Brazil’s 513-seat lower house is filled using an open-list proportional representation system that allocates seats to parties according to the total number of votes their candidates win — meaning extremely successful candidates can sometimes pull several allies into office.

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