Turning sex appeal into votes in Brazil's elections

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 3, 2010 (AFP) - General election campaigning in Brazil has taken on a characteristically sexual undertone, with some candidates showing off luscious curves and breathy voices as they vie for legislative seats.

The lascivious approach by a few would-be female lawmakers has raised no eyebrows in Brazil, where come-hither sensuality is a common enticement to flog everything from football to beer.

Indeed, their campaign ads -- a couple as steamy as any promoting sex telephone numbers -- are part of a slew of spots by candidates who run the gamut of political and moral positions, but who all want voters to put them in federal or state legislatures in the October 3 elections.

Unsurprisingly, candidates looking to use sex to stir support in the slums of Rio -- where nearly one voter in five in the city resides -- have come from a popular local music scene known as "funk" (whose pumping, electronic-derived tunes and explicit dance moves have nothing in common with the more restrained US variety of the same name).

Tati "Quebre-Barraco," a 30-year-old funk singer whose nickname means "Bring Down the House," is one of the hopefuls looking to translate her raunchy celebrity into political opportunity.

Born in the Ciudad de Dios slum made famous in a Brazilian movie, "City of God," Tati has her sights set on becoming a federal deputy to "fight prejudice and discrimination."

With backing from the tiny Christian Workers' Party, she has been campaigning under the slogan "Life is tough, but I never gave up."

"She's actually very intelligent and powerful," the regional head of her party, Daniel Tourinho, said. "She will attract a lot of votes, and is going to be on TV every day."

Tati is hardly alone in pressing her obvious attributes into the services of democracy.

Veronica Costa, a 36-year-old known as "The Blonde Mama of Funk," is campaigning again after having already won two mandates in the past, in 2000 and 2008. Her tilt for a state seat this year is based on promises to build rehabilitation clinics for drug addicts, and to build housing for the poor.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, there is also a funk dancer famed for her half-naked performances, Suellem Aline Mendes Silva, 23, who is campaigning under the name "Mujer Pera" -- "The Pear Woman." An ultra-tight corset which accentuates her physical assets in an hourglass form underscores her choice of stage name.

"I am a responsible person who is very devoted" to the Catholic Church, she says on her website, adding that she wants to represent Brazil's youth.

Rival "Melon Woman" -- Cristina Celia Antunes, another funk dancer -- is determined to not let Mendes Silva be the only ripe fruit on the ballot, though.

For Alessandra Alde, a specialist in political and media studies at Rio de Janeiro State University, the surge in salacious candidates stems from the trust voters put in high-profile figures they are familiar with.

"By appearing so much in the media, these people have enormous visibility, and voters think that by backing them their voice is, in some way, represented," she said.

Disgust with the more traditional political class in Brazil -- often associated with corruption and self-interest -- was also at play, she said.

The funk phenomenon "is not a political movement, but rather a movement of identification," Alde said.

Other candidates were trading on sexual celebrity earned in other ways.

Andreia Schwartz, a 33-year-old running for a seat in the state legislature for Espirito Santo, came into the public eye in 2008 as the prostitute at the heart of a sex scandal that brought down the then-governor of the US state of New York, Elliot Spitzer.

Schwartz, who denies all the charges that led to her arrest and deportation from the United States, is aiming to boost tourism to her state, one of the poorest in the country.

"I'm somebody who wants to do serious work," she said in an interview published on the Terra website.

She dismissed suggestions that her posing naked for a men's magazine after the Spitzer scandal hurt her political mission.

"I was invited to run by several parties," she said.

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