| BEFORE THE BAN: Poll graffiti in Sao Paulo
Brasilia, Sept. 13: The CPM may learn a thing or two about elections from Luiz Inacio Lula’s Workers’ Party, the largest Left force in Latin America.
The Indian Marxists’ spat with the Election Commission over poll graffiti during the Bengal elections last May would have made little sense to either Lula or to Brazil’s election court.
Together, Lula’s government and Brazil’s election authorities have, for the first time, banned posters, wall writings, high-decibel street campaigns and all other forms of visual and sound pollution in the run-up to the October 1 presidential elections.
The result is that barely three weeks before the polls, there are few visible signs of the coming contest. The faces of the contestants show only from a few billboards on commercial buildings that are earmarked for the purpose.
So, Brazil’s capital city is to witness the first-ever clean election. Incidentally, the sprawling new city, born in 1961, was planned by well-known architect Oscar Neimayer who, at 99, is also one of the oldest living members of the Communist Party of Brazil.
Neimayer, who planned most of Brasilia’s architecturally remarkable buildings and of whom Fidel Castro had said that the former was one of the two true communists alive, the other being Castro himself.
Occasionally, party workers go around the city in single vehicles, playing some election music. Young boys and girls riding the vehicles wave small party flags at passers-by.
It is somewhat like party workers campaigning from auto-rickshaws in Calcutta — without the ear-splitting noise that goes with it.
“The kids make a little money doing this,” says a local journalist. Very much like the youngsters parties in Bengal engage in electioneering. But even these street shows are few and far between. The parties are allowed, of course, to plead their cases on television channels.
Things were not unlike the elections in Calcutta until this time. Previous elections had seen the cities and towns defaced by graffiti and rocked by the poll cacophony.
Obviously, Lula and the election court agreed that the democratic excesses had to be checked.
No party has cried foul over the ban on graffiti, seeing in it, as Bengal’s Marxists did last May, a plot to stifle democracy.
That’s not all. The election court has imposed stringent restrictions on election expenditure. That, however, has a different background.
Last year, Lula’s government was rocked by a series of corruption scandals in which a large number of his own party’s leaders were involved. The revelations rocked a party that had won in 2002, promising a clean government.
Many heads rolled. But Lula’s reputation for personal honesty was largely intact, as was his popularity with the poor for his government’s anti-poverty programmes.
He is expected to win again, if not by as large a vote (85 per cent) as he did in 2002.
According to observers here, this is also because he, like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in May, has no real competition.
Lula offers another parallel to Bhattacharjee’s case. No one doubts he will win again. But the real question, observers and the people wonder, is whether he will fulfil this time his promises of reforms.
An interesting footnote to the October 1 elections is the candidature of Heloisa Helena, a senator who was expelled from the Workers’ Party for opposing Lula’s pension reform.
Bhattacharjee’s dilemma is worse. At the moment, he has far too many leaders in the CPM who oppose his idea of pension reform. Maybe, Lula’s ideas will help Bhattacharjee fight his own party.