ITAJUIPE, Brazil (AP) -- Luciene Ramos dos Santos knew a year ago
whom she would vote for in Sunday's election -- whoever would buy her a
Like many voters in Brazil's poor Northeast, dos Santos doesn't expect
anything from the politicians who win national elections once they take office.
So, she makes the most of their need for her now.
"Candidates or their friends pass by and ask if we need anything. They
it down, and then we wait and see who comes through," she said, standing
outside her clapboard shack plastered with campaign posters.
While Brazil has made strides in curtailing election fraud, vote-buying
time-hallowed practice in the poor interior. Candidates offer everything from
cash to coffins and vasectomies for votes.
One popular gift is a new pair of shoes -- one show is given before the
election and the other after, if the votes are delivered.
Plastic surgery for votes
"Unfortunately, it's become a tradition to give away shingles, cement,
medical care and even plastic surgery in exchange for votes," explains Maria
Alice Pereira, a campaign coordinator in this cocoa-growing region 500
miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
Pereira said the candidates she represents didn't buy votes.
The practice is most prevalent in poor districts and small towns, where
mayors rely on state and federal political bosses to get funding for
public works projects, explained Agenor Gasparetto, head of the
election-consulting firm Socio Estatistica.
In return for funds, he said, mayors are expected to deliver their town's
votes -- all of them -- for the ruling party's candidates. If the town as a
whole votes the way the party desires, gifts are doled out.
Gasparetto said it was common for mayors to hoard building supplies,
medical care and food earmarked for the poor until election time, when it
could be exchanged for votes.
Sometimes, the exchange is more subtle.
Roland Lavigne, a doctor and candidate for Congress, drives into small
interior towns in an air-conditioned mobile hospital, offering medical
examinations and minor surgery.
Before patients are examined, their photo is taken with a digital camera.
leaving, they receive a calendar with their pictures next to Lavigne's, a
reminder of their benefactor.
Up to 45 percent influenced by favors
Gasparetto estimates that in Itajuipe and other southern Bahia state towns,
as many as 45 percent of voters may be influenced by such favors.
Earlier this week, dos Santos still was waiting for firm commitments on
if not all, of the $130 she needs for her refrigerator. But she was hopeful
-- last election, a candidate paid for her $30 refillable cooking gas
Those who are better off trade their votes for jobs or services, Gasparetto
"It may not be as obvious as it is with the poor, but there's a certain
tolerance for this on all levels," he added.
Certainly, expectations seemed high among the crowd gathered at a new
hospital in nearby Itabuna, where Mayor Fernando Gomes temporarily
moved his office 45 days before the elections.
Thousands of middle-class residents flocked to the hospital, arriving on
new road lined with flags advertising Gomes' preferred candidates. A
billboard describes the hospital as "the Public Works Project of the
Under the hospital's futuristic blue dome, Gomes patiently examined the
resumes of more than 10,000 job-seekers.
In Sunday's national elections, meanwhile, President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso is well out front of his 11 rivals in the presidential race, despite
Brazil's economic crisis, the latest polls show.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Pres