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‘Tiririca,’ Brazil’s Clown Congressman, Steals the Show at Impeachment Vote

Rep. Tiririca the Clown (PRB – Sao Paulo) is the ultimate outsider politician, a professional clown elected to Congress in 2010 and subsequently awarded best attendance of any of his peers. Naturally, during last night’s impeachment vote against President Dilma Rousseff, the nation stood transfixed waiting for Tirirca’s vote: a resounding “yes” to impeachment.

Tiririca (“Grumpy”), whose real name is Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, has become one of the nation’s most popular legislators after his election in 2010 as a member of the PRB (Brazilian Republican Party, a center-right party). His colleagues cheered his nickname as he took the microphone to vote. He addressed the chair, Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha: “Mr. President, for my country, my vote is ‘yes.'” The chamber erupted in cheers in celebration of his vote.

Brazilians on Twitter celebrated his vote, leading his name to trend worldwide Sunday night. Twitter users noted that he is extremely popular in his home district – winning reelection in 2014 by more than one million votes – and could sway many apolitical types to support impeachment against Rousseff.

Tiririca’s vote had been the object of much suspense in the hours leading up to the vote, as he had refused to declare which way he was leaning. He denied having chosen a “yes” vote at the last minute, however, to reporters following his statement. “I voted with my heart. You didn’t know, but I already knew,” he said Monday. The Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico noted that, according to colleagues on the floor, Tiririca lost his temper when other legislators jokingly tried to persuade him to vote for impeachment, telling those hoping for him to return to his clown roots that “this is no place for a show.”

His vote was the most widely commented about on the Internet, surpassing even that of Rep. Bruno Araujo, who cast the deciding 342nd vote for impeachment.

Leftist President Dilma Rousseff stands accused of misrepresenting the economic state of the country, passing executive orders to move federal funding around to hide the dire state of the national debt. While the movement to impeach her is at least one year old, Brazilians grew increasingly supportive of the measure in March, when 3.6 million people marched in 40 Brazilian cities calling for impeachment or resignation. While not personally accused in the national embezzlement scandal known as Operation Car Wash – in which politicians of all stripes are accused of overcharging on projects for state-run oil company Petrobras to the tune of billions – Rousseff ran Petrobras during the time of the alleged scheme. Her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, stands accused of using illicit Petrobras funds to buy beachfront property; he has since been appointed chief of staff, which makes prosecution impossible.

As Rousseff’s socialist Workers’ Party (PT) has lost popularity, political characters like Tiririca have seen their stars on the rise. Tiririca was widely considered a joke candidate when elected in 2010, and he stood accused of being illiterate and, thus, unable to serve as a legislator. In 2013, after being accused of “electoral larceny” for winning a campaign while knowing he was illiterate, a court found that he could, indeed, read and write, and was found eligible to work in the House of Deputies.

He was reelected in 2014 with more than one million votes in a nationwide election Agence France-Presse reported had as candidates “five Barack Obamas, three Osama Bin Ladens, a Jesus, a Wonder Woman, a Brazilian 007, a Hamburger Face, a Rambo and a Crazy Dick.”

Tiririca later received commendation for being the only legislator to achieve a perfect attendance record for the 2010-2014 season; for comparison, some legislators skipped up to one-fourth of their sessions, an entire year of absence. He has been described as a quiet presence in the legislature, however, authoring bills mostly related to circus regulation.

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