SÃO PAULO — Brazil’s presidential candidates took to the airwaves Tuesday as political broadcasts on television and radio kicked off ahead of the country’s upcoming general elections.
All free-to-air television and radio networks must carry the 25-minute slots for presidential candidates twice a day on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until three days before the first round of voting on 5 October.
Some 26,000 candidates are taking part in October’s general elections, which aside from the president elects members of both chambers of Congress, state governors and state legislatures.
Free airtime for the different candidates is rotated Monday to Saturday as timetabled by the country’s top electoral court; parties are also provided with 30-second advertisements throughout the pre-election period.
For presidential candidates, 25-minute blocks of airtime are divided according to the number of deputies the coalition of parties supporting the candidate currently holds in Congress.
This gives incumbent president Dilma Rousseff, whose coalition is made up of nine, well-represented parties including her own Workers’ Party, just under 11.5 minutes of the 25 minutes set aside for the political broadcasts. Aécio Neves, who heads the ticket for the Brazilian Social Democracy Party-led coalition, will get around four-and-a-half minutes.
The Brazilian Socialist Party, set to announce its new candidate on Wednesday after the death last week of Eduardo Campos, will have just over two minutes.
Presidential candidate in 2010 and former environment minister Marina Silva, who was Campos’s vice presidential running mate, is widely predicted to be tapped to head the presidential ticket for the party’s coalition.
Tribute to Campos
The first political messages broadcast early Monday paid tribute to Campos, who died last Wednesday in a plane crash in Santos, Sao Paulo state.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who featured prominently in Rousseff’s first broadcast, said he experienced an “immense pain” at the loss of the former Socialist Party candidate.
Neves said the start of the presidential race was shrouded in a “profound sadness” after the death of his “friend”.
Campos’s party used its first broadcast to remember its late leader, and used messages by the two-time governor of Pernambuco recorded before his death.
The broadcasts are a key campaign tool in Brazil where television in particular is a major source of information for many of the country’s 143 million voters. Candidates use the airtime to sell voters their ideas and agendas, and also expose their opponents, and their performance is endlessly scrutinised.
The extent of the impact that broadcasts have on elections, however, could be changing.
“In Brazil’s short history of democracy, elections have been swayed by television, but research now suggests that it is not as fundamental as it used to be, given Brazilians have more options these days and they can switch over to cable channels when the ‘election hour’ is on,” Professor Carlos Pereira, a political scientist from the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, told Anadolu Agency by phone.
“In fact, it appears the short ads, the 30-second bursts that parties have the right to, are more effective at convincing undecided voters, particularly if they are done well,” Pereira explains.
Parties are handed a proportional number of the shorter broadcasts but they are equal in length, which experts say does not favor Rousseff who holds a monopoly when free-to-view channels are required to show election broadcasts.
Social media is also playing a greater role than ever, experts say, and parties and candidates will be keen to promote innovative campaigns, in particular to lure younger voters.
One of Brazil’s most important news programs, the nightly Jornal Nacional, continued its round of fast-paced, 15-minute interviews with presidential candidates on Monday, this time interviewing Rousseff at her official residence in Brasília.
The interviews have focused on controversies, and Rousseff came under fire over her party’s corruption scandals, as well as her handling of the economy and the state of the country’s health system.
“The real winner was the program itself: the questions were far tougher than in previous elections,” Pereira said.
“Dilma was very defensive, and gave number-laden, confusing, long-winded, unfocused answers, and was particularly evasive over the party’s record on corruption. She appeared to be convincing party supporters to stay, rather than attempting to win over undecided voters,” he concluded.
In previous interviews with Campos and Neves, both candidates were also defensive but both were generally better received than Rousseff, who also had to defend her first term in office.
Brazil follows an election tradition seen in most South America countries, where public funding and infrastructure is provided for electoral campaigns under strict controls.
This is the case with neighbouring Argentina, for example, which is set to hold its next general elections in October 2015. As in Brazil, Argentina’s political parties are given broadcast “as and are banned from buying additional airtime.
However, Brazil’s neighbour to the north, Venezuela, which remains in the grips of a bitter political battle between the ruling party led by President Nicolás Maduro and the main Henrique Capriles-led opposition group, relies on private funds and undisclosed figures of public money.
Members and supporters of the country’s opposition say the government has a huge advantage in elections as the country’s major broadcasters are all state-run or owned by business figures linked to the ruling party.