The verdict that toppled former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s convictions has lifted Brazilian politics and set up a potential settlement of the election with President Jair Bolsonaro – a challenge that the far-right can enjoy himself.
Monday’s decision by Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin overturned all convictions against the former president, which stemmed from an investigation into a massive corruption program targeting Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras.
The decision was procedural, but it reintroduces Lula’s right to take office while the cases against him play out in another court.
The news was dropped like a bomb just as Brazil is gearing up for the presidential election in October next year, when the country – deeply divided over Bolsonaro’s contentious, in-your-face reign – will decide whether to keep the man known as “Tropical Trump” for further four years.
Now it is sitting facing the prospect of a heavyweight opponent on the left, writing about a race that seemed to take the form of a battle between Bolsonaro and a series of candidates vying for the center.
“This shakes the Brazilian political scene – we now have a scenario that is completely different than 24 hours ago,” said Jowharcorrespondent Tim Vickery. Instead of a technocratic campaign to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, “we are now looking at something that is likely to be much more ideological,” he added.
‘Lula is back’
Lula, who at age 75 remains as charismatic as he is controversial, has always claimed he was innocent.
The former steel worker says that the accusations against him were made to remove him from the 2018 presidential election, where he was a front-runner.
In April of the same year, he was arrested for taking bribes from a construction company in exchange for juicy Petrobras contracts.
After more than a year and a half behind bars, a Supreme Court decision acquitted him pending an appeal.
In tribute to the judge’s ruling on Monday, Lula said it was “recognition that we have always been correct during our legal battle”.
“Lula is still facing legal charges, but in order for him to lose his political rights again, he must be convicted and then lose again on appeal, and there may not be time for that to happen before the next presidential campaign in October next year,” said FRANCE 24: s Vickery.
He added: “So move the pieces on the chessboard, Lula is back.”
A vulnerable sitting
Lula’s prison in 2018 helped Bolsonaro grow to the presidency later that year and lead the outrage against the gigantic corruption scandal that engulfed Lula, his Labor Party (PT) and much of Brazil’s political and business activities.
But just over two years into his term, the right-wing president looks vulnerable.
His challenge to expert advice on fighting the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a risky venture as Covid-19 has destroyed Brazil and claimed more than 266,000 lives – the second highest number of deaths worldwide, after the United States.
The coalition of forces that brought the former army captain to power has meanwhile worn out.
Bolsonaro has clashed with both the anti-corruption faction – fallen out with the popular ex-Justice Minister Sergio Moro, the former judge who imprisoned Lula – and the business community, worried about his growing turn to large-scale economic populism spending.
Bolsonaro, 65, dismissed Lula’s return and said he was worried.
“The [Lula] “The government’s robbery is clear for all to see,” he said. I do not think the Brazilian people even want one [PT] candidate 2022, much less him. “
Opinion polls, however, suggest otherwise. The latest, released on Sunday by voting company Ipec, gave Lula the most potential votes in the 2022 election, with 50 percent, making him the only politician to surpass Bolsonaro, 38 percent.
Bolsonaro ‘needs clear enemies’
But there are also whispers in Brasilia that Bolsonaro is happy to have his old enemy back, and with him a return to a familiar script.
“It’s no secret that the presidential palace has taken root in Lula’s jurisdiction,” the consulting firm Eurasia Group said in a note. “It creates a foil for the president and increases his odds of a second-round victory in 2022 if he faces a candidate on the left rather than the political center.”
Lula’s return means that Bolsonaro will be able to run the type of polarized campaign that he normally enjoys, says Vickery.
“His movement needs clear enemies to maintain its momentum,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent. “He is likely to regain support from financial market centers that seemed tired of him.”
Lula would meanwhile face the challenge of uniting a left wing that has been severely upset since he went to prison.
The Labor Party is now a shadow of its former self, with rising rivals challenging its dominance to the left.
If Lula is a candidate, “do not count on me to participate in this circus,” tweeted prominent center-left politician Ciro Gomes, who finished third in the 2018 presidential race, behind Bolsonaro and Lula’s built-in Fernando Haddad.
( Jowharwith AFP)