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Brazil Hands Out Sentences for Vote-Buying Scandal amidst Municipal Elections
December 5, 2012
By: Katherine Keally | Printer Friendly

On October 7 and October 28, Brazil held municipal elections amidst the Supreme Court’s deliberation on a vote-buying scandal involving high ranking officials from the governing Workers’ Party (PT). The Mensalão scandal, meaning “big monthly payment,” emerged in June 2005 after a deputy alerted a Brazilian newspaper that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s PT had been making monthly payments to deputies in exchange for votes favoring the ruling party.

On November 12, Brazil’s Supreme Court sentenced José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, Lula’s former chief of staff, to 10 years and 10 months in prison for charges reflecting bribery and unlawful conspiracy, according to the New York Times. José Genoino Guimarães Neto, the PT’s president at the time the scandal broke, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, while Marcos Valério de Souza, the businessman responsible for coordinating the a majority of the embezzlement operation, was sentenced in October to 40 years and a fine of $1.3 million USD. Thirty out of the 37 individuals charged were convicted during the trial.

The length of sentencing for these high ranking officials is unprecedented because officials charged with corruption in Brazil typically do not serve much prison time. Thiago Bottino, a law professor at the Brazilian university Fundação Getúlio Vargas, described the sentencing as “a watershed moment,” with the Supreme Court indicating the seriousness of the case through the severity of the sentencing. According to the New York Times, José Dirceu will most likely serve around two years of prison time due to the length of his sentence. Lula, who was re-elected in 2006 despite the scandal, was not brought to trial and has denied any involvement, though opposition members have called for his investigation, according to Aljazeera.

According to David Fleischer, a professor at the University of Brasília’s Institute of Political Science, PT members were concerned that the Mensalão scandal affected their candidates’ performances in the municipal elections because the Supreme Court’s deliberations occurred during the election campaigns. Fleischer noted in a report by the Los Angeles Times that although the scandal did affect the elections, the extent of the effect was indeterminate since the major parties, which all support “a moderate, social-democratic development plan,” retained control of most cities: “There was a negative effect from the ... scandal, but I’m not sure how big it was. Not big enough to stop it from being more or less a good day for Dilma.” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is Lula’s successor and a PT member. A good showing in the municipal elections for the PT and its ally, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), has historically led to the election of more deputies from these parties in the general elections that occur two years later.

Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service held an event, “Brazil Municipal Elections 2012,” on November 19 during which Fleischer analyzed the results of the elections and their implications. The first round of elections was conducted in 5,568 municipalities, with 50 cities holding runoff elections. There was an 84.59 percent voter turnout for the first round and an 80.89 percent turnout in the second round, in light of Brazil’s compulsory voting law. Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro from the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), was re-elected in the first round, while the Fernando Haddad of the PT won the second round of vote for São Paulo. The PSB maintained control of 40.6 percent of their municipalities, with the PT at 39.4 percent, and the PMDB at 34.4 percent.

Fleischer suggested that there was a high level of competition during the municipal elections, with a record 50 runoff elections. Out of the 85 largest cities in Brazil, 67.5 percent of mayors running were re-elected, and 75 percent of the cities re-elected the same 7 parties that they have elected since 1996. According to Fleischer, the PSB, PT, and PSD were successful during the election, while the Democrats (DEM) were not. Although the PT was able to pull through a win in São Paulo, the PT faced major losses in the large cities of Salvador and Fortaleza in the northeast, showing that it is not “unbeatable,” according to Reuters. Following the election, Dilma will move to reorganize her Cabinet to account for the changes in the numbers of allies from different coalition parties before the Chamber and Senate elections in February 2013.

For more information on Georgetown University’s event, “Brazil Municipal Elections 2012,” please click here.

Aljazeera – Brazil jails Lula's ex-aide for vote buying

Los Angeles Times – Municipal elections in Brazil provide welcome news for President Rousseff

Reuters – Brazil ruling party wins coveted Sao Paulo mayorship

The New York Times – A Former Brazilian Presidential Aide Gets 10 Years in Vote-Buying Scheme



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