Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends the opening plenary of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Center in Washington on April 13, 2010. UPI/Andrew Harrer/Pool | License Photo
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- A professional clown's bid to get elected to Brazil's congress has angered politicians who see Tiririca's parliamentary ambitions as an affront to their vocations but many Brazilians have other thoughts.
Television comedian Tiririca -- real name Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva -- is the most prominent of a clutch of entertainers who have taken to Sunday's congressional contest to highlight disillusionment with Brazil's politics, where they say corruption, inequalities, racism and tokenism are commonplace.
Former footballer Romario de Souza Faria, hero of Brazil's 1994 World Cup victory, is also running in his home state of Rio de Janeiro on a pledge to cleanse the city of drugs and send street children to school.
Despite President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's promise to jettison Brazil into a 21st century of political power and regional leadership, Brazil is frequently branded by international agencies as a society riven by huge economic and social disparities.
As middle class children attend schools paid for by parents, about 85 percent of the school goers have to fight for education in government-run institutions where absenteeism, crime, drug use and inadequate facilities are endemic.
The self-styled Tiririca -- "grumpy" -- struck a chord with a skeptical electorate when he opened his campaign with the slogan: "What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don't know. But vote for me and I will find out for you."
About 1 million voters have rallied behind him, reports said.
The congressional election coincides with the presidential poll in which Lula protege Dilma Rousseff, a former head of the presidential office representing Lula's Workers Party, is widely expected to win.
Steered to political prominence by Lula's popular appeal, Rousseff maintains her lead but the outgoing president has had his legacy tarnished in the final stages by charges of corruption in his administration, harsh measures against the press, including a ban that bars entertainers, cartoonists and commentators from mocking the politicians.
Lula cannot contest for a third term under Brazil's constitution but has hinted he may consider a political comeback when Rousseff's term ends -- and if she doesn't seek re-election.
By all poll counts Rousseff will be elected as Brazil's first woman president even as support has grown for male rival Jose Serra, former governor of Sao Paulo. Serra supporters in the opposition said a last-minute election upset couldn't be ruled out.
Lula's attacks on the press won him unusually strong criticism in the media that previously had overlooked his outbursts and outlandish rhetoric.
Inter-American Press Association President Alejandro Aguirre called Lula's comments dangerous and compared him to the populist Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela.
Aguirre, quoted in O Globo newspaper, said, "Freedom of the press is a right that belongs to the people and not to the government."
Aguirre said, "It is obvious that we are before a government that's following the steps of other Latin American governments, like Chavez's in Venezuela, and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner."
He added, "Regretfully we have seen cases of democratic governments that at some moment have begun to act in an authoritarian manner to control the media, particularly those that follow an independent line, independent criteria."
Aguirre said, "We are hopeful that the person who succeeds Mr. Lula da Silva as president will be respectful of civil and human rights and of freedom of expression as the cornerstone of democracy."