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BRAZIL: Doubling the Electorate

2 minute read

Fifteen of the 20 Latin American countries allow illiterates to vote, furnish colored ballots or party symbols to guide them. Last week Brazil, one of the five remaining holdouts,* moved to drop its literacy requirement. The main force for reform was no left-winging politician but a stiff-backed army officer. Acting more and more like a man who hopes eventually to be elected President, General Henrique Teixeira Lott, 62, War Minister and staunch army prop of the current regime, got a friendly Congressman to introduce a constitutional amendment killing the literacy test. He has already backed such a measure with a public declaration of faith in the masses.

If passed, the amendment would more than double the electorate—from 15 million to about 35 million. It would shake the country’s power alignments so drastically that politicians from the backlands to the halls of Congress are deep in awed speculation about the future. Within the two-party coalition that elected President Juscelino Kubitschek. the amendment would bring new votes to the leftist Labor Party (P.T.B.), which speaks for the often illiterate workers. Consequently, Vice President Joāo (“Jango”) Goulart, P.T.B.’s boss, quickly announced his support. The gain for the conservatively inclined Social Democrats (P.S.D.)—Ku-bitschek’s own party—might well be proportionately less. But on the theory that the measure will hurt the rightist, oppositionist National Democratic Union even more, President Kubitschek unhesitatingly came out for the amendment last week. Though some of his own P.S.D. Congressmen will balk, sentiment adds up in favor of passage.

* The others: ‘Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras.

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