As Australia heads towards an election in September, there is only one certainty - the voters are deeply disillusioned with many of our politicians. That is also the case in Brazil where a vote-buying scandal has rocked the nation. So perhaps it was time for a completely different type of politician to emerge. Enter one very popular clown. But as Yaara Bou Melhem reports, our funny man has found that tackling corruption and bringing about change has challenged even his sense of humour.
REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Tiririca…it is your husband. You bandit woman!
A flamboyant greeting between flamboyant men.
MAN (Translation): Give me a parliamentary kiss. That’s it, love. A gay kiss and a friend’s kiss.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Oh, Daddy! I’ll slap your face. Take it!
But not one you would expect from one of Brazil's most popular politician.
REPORTER: And do your colleagues in Congress like it?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): No, I don’t wear it there. I don’t wear the wig. There I use my own blond hair. There you are not allowed, the congress does not accept transvestites.
But the public supports Francisco Silva. His stage name is Tiririca and he received 1.3 million votes at the last election - the second largest vote in Brazilian history.
REPORTER: Which one is your day job?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Clown… and then parliamentarian. I was elected as this – as a clown. It was an unbelievable number of votes.
I’m hiding from you a bit here…. Appear again, hide again, appear, and get out. Follow me!
Tiririca is on his way to a popular afternoon TV show. His humour is bawdy and vulgar. The audience laps it up.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): My granny looked and started to play with me, she went “nyah, nyah…” She nearly drowned me! She had no teeth, so when she did that….her spit went up my nose, I nearly died.
And it is not just this show, Tiririca is constantly in the public eye. His look and language are no accident. He's a former circus clown from a poor and undeveloped north-east of the country.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): I am a circus artist, a circus artiste. I reached the point of starvation, I didn’t have a childhood, I didn’t get to play, as is the right of every child – to play. I worked from the age of eight, I began at eight and I have never stopped.
When this very public figure decided to enter politics in 2010, he campaigned on anti-corruption values. It is unusual, to say the least, for a politician to sweep into office without making any promises.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Are you tired of scammers? For federal MP, Tiririca. Vote in the dumbo.
MAN (Translation): Is politics a joke?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): It is. I think so.
MAN (Translation): Should you ask for votes seriously or with jokes?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): In my case, it has to be mixed.
My friends warned me “Pal, be careful, you risk destroying your work as a popular artist.”
Vote for Tiririca, it can’t get worse.
But I replied “I will enter politics and tell the truth, I will not lie, I’ll not promise anything.”
It’s unusual to say the least for a politician to sweep into office without making any promises, but Tiririca has taken his massive mandate seriously.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): I’m going there to register my presence.
Today, like every sitting day, Tiririca arrives at parliament on time. His diligence has seen him claim another title - that of one of Brazil's best parliamentarians.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): There are 513, and I am one of seven that are never absent.
His attendance record is exemplary, but it seems hard for him to get any work done. He is constantly mobbed by fans.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): The veto may happen tomorrow.
MAN (Translation): A photo?
MAN 2 (Translation): With the politician here. Good person.
He is on first-name terms with almost everyone in the building. He joins his colleagues in the party room. This meeting will decide on how his party, Partido Republica will vote on key issues, but even here his popularity precedes him.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Please, I didn’t see you love. I didn’t see you darling.
POLITICIAN: Great Tiririca!
It is all light hearted, but the PR is dogged by a serious issue - corruption. The very thing Tiririca has campaigned against. It is not just his party in trouble. Brazilian politics has been rocked bay high-level corruption scandal.
NEWS REPORT (Translation): The judge in the Mensalao case asked today for the conviction of Jose Dirceu and seven others for active corruption. Joaquim Barbosa said that the ex-chief-of-staff for the presidency led the vote-buying scheme in Congress.
As part of the governing coalition, Tiririca’s party has already taken a hit.
DAVID FLEISCHER, POLITICAL ANALYST: This party was the first party kicked out of the cabinet in 2001. She kicks out six cabinet ministers accused of corruption.
So along with all of the back slapping, was the popular clown brought in to refresh the party's image?
DAVID FLEISCHER: That is part of the paradox, if you are a very, very corrupt party and notoriously traditional corrupt, you recruit these young people who are untainted, who have no corruption accusations because they are just joined politics. So you use these let’s say, pure people to clean up your image of your party.
While he attends all of the parliamentary briefings and all the committees, the taint of corruption has meant he is distancing himself from his own party and even from politics.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Look, I am not a party man, that’s not what I am. I’m not in favour or against the party, I do what I believe is good for the people.
REPORTER: Including members from your own party?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Actually the guy who discovered me, who was the party president, he was condemned and I would like to see the guilty pay for it. Have to pay. Society has to see that that things are really working.
And it is not just corruption that has taken the smile off this clown's face. The glacial pace of a parliament where a Bill can sit in a committee for two years has also turned him off.
REPORTER: Did you think you could change something?
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Yes, I did. I thought, considering my vote, wow, I can arrive there, be able to pass bills, do lots of things and all. But not here, my vote here is worth the same as… a guy who had 100,000 votes, I got a million votes. It is worth the same, so it does not count for much. My favourite ones is this one here and this one here.
His time in parliament has been the latest chapter in a long and colourful story. But now the funny man is as disillusioned as those who supported him, hoping for change.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): I’ll spend two years here, but I’ll be out of politics - Total. As you can’t do much here and I don’t want to fool people, I don’t want to disappoint my voters.
Tiririca, it seems, is determined to return to what he loves best.
FRANCISCO SILVA (Translation): Darling women! Good afternoon, my loved ones!
I decided to leave because out there as an artist I do much more, bringing happiness to people.
ANJALI RAO: What a shame that politics can't accommodate a conscientious clown. Yaara Bou Melham in San Paulo with that report.
YAARA BOU MELHEM
Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN