Politicking in Brazil: samba, graffiti, block parties

With Brazil's first major election in 20 years just around the corner, politicians here are barnstorming about their districts as if to make up for lost time.

Would-be congressmen are collaring voters on streetcorners, haranging them at campaign musical extravaganzas, and debating with them at neighborhood block parties. In some countries, voters tire of hard-sell politicking long before election day - but not in Brazil. This country seems thirsty for it.

Pedro Del Picchia, a candidate for state representative in Sao Paulo, says he has attended 500 neighborhood meetings during his campaign. Most of them start in the evening and last into the wee hours.

If this record is exaggerated (it would mean one meeting a night for the past year and a half), the claim to neighborhood interest is not. This method of airing views is traditional in Brazil, but it is especially popular this year because a government continues to ban radio and television advertising of all but the most innocuous messages.

So with the Nov. 15 elections fast approaching, aspiring politicians are using their imaginations to reach voters. Some candidates are renting huge arenas and hiring pop musical groups. But such expensive affairs are beyond the means of all but the wealthiest of candidates.

Many politicians have plastered walls and other objects with campaign graffiti, which is illegal here. Bridge abutments, skyscrapers, and, in one case , an elegant art museum, bear spray-painted campaign pitches.

As in many other countries, candidates hire vans mounted with bullhorns and send them out to cruise the neighborhoods - but in Brazil they blare out samba with the political messages.

A recent neighborhood meeting for Mr. Del Picchia and Getulio Hanashiro, also a candidate of the Popular Democratic Movement of Brazil, is typical of the exuberant nature of politics here.

Thirty-five guests came to a suburban home in the evening. Candidates made short presentations. Then began a four-hour discussion, during which the candidates were grilled, advised, and instructed.

''The problem is not the regime, not the dictatorship, not democracy,'' a dentist told the candidates, index finger wagging in the air. ''The problem is morality. The problem is corruption. I want to know exactly what your position is on combating corruption.''

Mr. Hanashiro, a city council candidate and professor, answered: ''In a more open regime, I doubt we would have this problem.''

The diehards were still debating at midnight.

The host, Silvio Pereira, said this was the first gathering in his house in years. The retired journalist and former representative said this sort of meeting was popular before the 1964 military coup put politics on ice.

''Those with money and power have tremendous resources'' for political campaigns, he said. ''Those who don't (have money and power) come to gatherings like this. . . . People like this kind of meeting. They feel honored to be so close to a political candidate.''

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