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updated: 10/7/2012 3:09 PM

Brazilians voting in 'Clean Record' elections

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  • Women check the list of candidates before voting in municipal elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Voters across Latin America's biggest country are electing mayors and municipal council members.

    Women check the list of candidates before voting in municipal elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Voters across Latin America's biggest country are electing mayors and municipal council members.
    Associated Press


Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil's nationwide municipal elections Sunday may be most notable for who won't be taking office.

The "Clean Record," good-governance law bars people convicted of a wide range of crimes from serving in political office and this is the first full nationwide election held under the measure since it was upheld by the supreme court.

Observers say the bill is a watershed in Brazilian politics, long dominated by strongmen who milk the system for personal gain and that of their cronies and who often resort to shady tactics to hold onto power.

"It's a radical change of culture, vision and moral compass," said Jorge Sanchez, president of the anti-corruption watchdog group Amarribo Brasil. "It's the beginning of a long, slow process, but one that I'm confident will change the political landscape here in five to 10 years so that it's upstanding people and not the tainted ones who will start to naturally gravitate toward politics."

Under the measure, those convicted of charges such as fraud, drug trafficking, money-laundering, sexual assault and murder, are barred for running for public office for eight years. Previously, those with criminal records were only ineligible if their cases could no longer be appealed to a higher court, a glacial process in Brazil's overstrained justice system, where appeals can run on for decades.

"We've seen cases in years back where people with known links to organized crime, drug traffickers and other criminal groups get into politics as a way of shielding themselves from prosecution, and that of course is very detrimental to the whole system," said Ricardo Ismael, a political science researcher at Rio's PUC Catholic University.

The law was the fruit of a rare show of grassroots organizing. Supporters flooded lawmakers with some 4 million emails as well as a 1.3 million-signature petition. The mobilization was so effective that even those legislators who spoke against the measure ended up voting for it, and it passed the Senate unanimously in 2010.

Already, kinks have emerged, however.

Out of the around 480,000 candidates running for mayor or city council in 5,565 cities and towns throughout Brazil, 2,969 are being examined by Brazil's top electoral court in connection with the Clean Record law. The volume of red-flagged candidacies is so high that the court has only processed 764 of them to date -- and it has not released a list of the candidates it has barred from taking office even if they win their races.

A spokeswoman for the court said the list will be released in the coming days, and that the court hopes to get through all the cases by December, before the newly elected officials take office. If the court disqualifies a winning candidate, the second-place finisher would take office instead.

The Clean Record law is part of a broader crackdown on corruption that has swept Brazil. The Supreme Court is deliberating on massive a cash-for-votes case with defendants that include dozens of legislators, as well as the former chief of staff for hugely popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Current President Dilma Rousseff is seen as being tough on corruption. She's forced out seven of her ministers who have faced allegations.

The two biggest races Sunday are for mayors of Olympic city Rio de Janeiro and of Sao Paulo, South America's biggest metropolis.

In Rio, Mayor Eduardo Paes is forecast by all polls to cruise to an easy victory. In Sao Paulo, two-time presidential candidate and a former governor Jose Serra, is locked in a tight race with former education minister Fernando Haddad and a former federal congressman, Celso Russomanno.

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