Even without having Portuguese nationality, Geizy Fernandes, originally from Divinópolis (MG), has already voted in several elections in Portugal, in addition to having been a candidate in the official elections twice. If she is chosen in the primaries of her party, she will run in the next municipal elections in Lisbon, scheduled in six months.
“When I applied it was a normal and smooth process. Nobody put an obstacle. It was my right and they just followed protocol, ”she says, who has lived in the country since 2008.
Although this is a well established point in Portuguese law and a relatively unbureaucratic procedure, the right of immigrants to vote and, mainly, to stand as a political candidate, is still little known.
A project led by the NGO Casa do Brasil in Lisbon, which offers support to the Brazilian community in the country, aims to change this scenario and increase the political participation of foreigners.
Named “Vota Imigrante”, the initiative gathers and disseminates information, in an accessible and simplified way, on what is needed to participate in the elections in Portugal.
According to the president of the institution, Cyntia de Paula, greater participation in elections can help to give visibility to the situation of foreigners, in addition to contributing to a greater representativeness and diversity of Portuguese politics.
“It is important to occupy these spaces [políticos], take our look, our experiences. It is also important for the development of public policies and the implementation of local measures which in fact guarantee more equality and opportunities, which combat stereotypes and prejudices, ”he says.
Initially, the project is betting on social networks to attract the attention of nearly 200,000 foreigners without dual European nationality with the right to vote in municipal elections. Of these, the majority, around 151,000, are Brazilian.
Data from the Portuguese electoral register for 2020 indicates that only 15,512 non-European Union foreigners registered to vote, out of a universe of more than 10.8 million voters.
The electoral participation of foreigners depends on several factors, including the nationality of origin, the length of legal residence in Portugal and, above all, the type of election in question.
Municipal elections – which choose the occupants of municipal councils (equivalent to prefectures), parish councils (a kind of sub-prefecture with more powers) and municipal assemblies – are those which have the largest participation.
After two years of legal residence in the country, citizens of any country in the European Union, in addition to Brazil and Cape Verde, can now vote in Portuguese municipal elections.
Immigrants from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela get the right to vote in municipalities after legally residing in Portugal for three years . However, they do not have the right to submit an application.
For Brazilians and Cape Verdeans, after three years of residence, it is already possible to apply for positions in these demands. Foreigners from European Union countries can also stand as candidates in municipal elections.
Unlike other nationalities, the political rights of Brazilians can also extend to legislative and presidential elections.
“In fact, the Brazilians are the group that holds the greatest electoral rights. They have the active electoral capacity, the right to vote, as well as the passive electoral capacity, which is the right to be elected, ”says lawyer Emellin de Oliveira, specializing in migration and doctoral studies at Universidade Nova from Lisboa.
Thanks to the so-called Porto Seguro Treaty, signed in April 2020, Brazilian citizens, after three years of legal residence in Portugal, can apply for the status of equal political rights.
The document equates the electoral participation of a Brazilian with that of a Portuguese, allowing the vote in all the elections: municipal, legislative, presidential and European.
Brazilians are also the only foreigners who can, with their nationality of origin, seek a seat in the country’s parliament.
Upon obtaining status, however, the person ends up with suspended electoral rights in Brazil and cannot vote in Brazilian elections.
“As there is also an equal status of political rights, many people confuse it, they think that a Brazilian can only vote with him. It’s not like that. It is not necessary to vote for the municipalities, ”explains lawyer Emellin de Oliveira, also vice-president of Casa do Brasil in Lisbon.
The treaty guarantees reciprocity, allowing Portuguese residents in Brazil to also demand equal political rights, thus having the right to vote in Brazilian elections.
Beneficiary of equal political rights, Geizy Fernandes was a candidate for deputy in 2019 for the Free Party, a left-wing legend of which she was one of the founders. She said the ability to run without using dual citizenship was also a form of political protest.
“I thought that it would be positive for me to be able to apply as a completely immigrant citizen, without Portuguese nationality, at the height of what I believe to be the future of democracy, which is to be plural and multicultural He said.
Although she claims to have felt a lot of support and welcome among the Portuguese during the campaigns in which she has participated, the Brazilian also reveals an episode of xenophobia in 2015, during her first attempt to run for the legislature.
At the time, an error by the SEF (Foreigners and Borders Service) prevented Geizy from proceeding with voter registration, which is a mandatory step. The case ended up being reported in the Portuguese press, generating a series of aggressive comments.
“But we’re talking about a few years ago. In the other two times that I have, in fact, applied, I did not feel any reluctance, although I also know that the campaign that I did took place in a very favorable environment, it was already a left-wing midfielder, ”he adds.
Obstacle to Geizy Fernandes’ first attempt at candidacy, voter registration is one of the major bottlenecks in foreign voting.
While the Portuguese have automatic registration and can vote taking into account the official registered address, foreigners must manually complete the process in the parish councils of the region where they live.
For this reason, in areas where the presence of immigrants is low, the process may be more complicated due to the lack of familiarity of local authorities with the registration process.
The president of the Casa do Brasil in Lisbon, Cyntia de Paula, defends more the attention of the public authorities for the right to vote of immigrants and the automatic registration of foreigners on the electoral rolls.
“People don’t know they have this right because there is no disclosure. I hold government agencies accountable, but even immigrant associations themselves. But the life of migrants and associations is already such a great obstacle course that between the search for accommodation, food, employment and regularization, political rights are the last ”, he analyzes. .