It might seem as if American voters have a difficult choice to make between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for president. However, just think of how confusing it is for Brazilians faced with no less than 16 Obamas running for office in the country’s upcoming municipal elections, the first round of which takes place on October 7.Like many other aspects of Brazilian culture, politics often possesses tinges of the whimsical and the absurd, not to mention the Carnivalesque.
Like many other aspects of Brazilian culture, politics often possesses tinges of the whimsical and the absurd, not to mention the Carnivalesque. After all, this is a country whose best loved president in history – Luiz Inácio da Silva – was universally known by his childhood nickname of “Lula” (squid). However, the vast number of candidates in the running for city council seats, coupled with impressively loose restrictions on the names that can be placed on ballots, mean that things can get particularly delirious during municipal elections.
The bar has been raised particularly high since 2010 federal elections, when Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, who had already gained popularity for his role as a clown on a popular TV show, was elected to Congress under his stage name of Tiririca (“Grumpy”). Not only did Tiririca break records by earning more votes than any other Brazilian congressional candidate, but he inspired a new wave of candidates to go all out in donning names and personas capable of providing them with a differentiating – and winning – edge.
This year’s ballots are rife with superheroes (there are five Batmans alone), fictional characters (James Bonds are seeking council seats in both Birigui, São Paulo, and Ponta Grossa, Paraná) and American pop celebrities (Lady Gaga is running in the São Paulo satellite city of Santo André while Michael Jackson is alive and well and running for office in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul), not to mention famed political figures as diverse as Bin Laden (vowing to “blow up corruption” in the town of Guarpimirim, Rio de Janeiro) and the aforementioned 16 Obamas.
Next to the original Barack, the Obama currently getting the most press in Brazil is “Obama BH” who is running for city council in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais. The 44-year-old Obama BH, whose real name is Gerson Januário de Almeida, has the advantage of bearing an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President. Indeed, his nickname came about when, upon riding the cable car up to Sugar Loaf, in Rio, Almeida overheard some American tourists gasping at his striking similarity to the real Obama.
The fortuitous comment not only provided the catalyst for a supplementary freelance career in which Almeida poses as the president at various promotional events, but has also brought him national media attention. Ironically, just like his famous doppelganger, Obama BH, who works as an administrative assistant in Belo Horizonte’s public health system, is making health care reform a major part of his platform.
Meanwhile, interestingly, and perhaps cannily, this time around, not a single Brazilian candidate chose to run for office using the name “Mitt Romney”.