Brazil: Setback for Lula’s presidential candidacy
A supporter of jailed, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, holds a sign that reads in Portuguese: "Free Lula" at a march in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 15. | Eraldo Peres / AP

On Saturday, September 1, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of Brazil voted six to one that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party (Partido do Trabalho) in the October elections this year, must be barred from running because of a dubious conviction earlier for corruption and money laundering. The Workers’ Party is now appealing this decision to the country’s Supreme Court.

The TSE also forbade Lula from participating directly in the electoral campaign and instructed the Workers’ Party that it must register the name of a replacement candidate within ten days.

Previously, the U.N. Human Rights Committee had intervened, saying that to deny Lula the right to run before all his appeals of his conviction are exhausted would be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Brazil is a signatory. However, the six judges who voted against Lula merely repeated that Brazil’s “Clean Slate” (Ficha Limpa) law forbade his candidacy because he had already lost one appeal. Lula has been in prison since April, with restricted access to the outside world.

During his first and second terms as president, from 2003 to 2011, Lula, a former steelworker, gained great popularity because of economic and social programs that pulled millions of Brazilians out of poverty. He could not immediately run again after his second term, because of Brazil’s term limits, and was succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers’ Party. Unfortunately for Rousseff, during her time in office, Brazil was hit hard by a sharp economic downturn. Her enemies on the right engineered a constitutional coup based on shaky accusations of official misconduct and got the Brazilian Senate to remove her from power, two years ago.

Rousseff’s vice president, Michel Temer, took over as president and turned the country sharply to the right, slashing the social safety net and reversing many of the progressive labor laws, and even anti-slavery laws, that had been passed under Lula and Rousseff. Temer himself is one of a huge number of Brazilian politicians who have been enmeshed in the vast “Lava Jato” (“Jiffy Car Wash”) corruption scandal. The result of the Temer presidency has been mass suffering for most Brazilians and severe economic stagnation.

The accusations against Lula are shaky, and there is reason to believe they are politically motivated. Essentially, he is accused of receiving an apartment from a company doing business with his government, but the evidence that he ever took possession of the apartment or lived there is thin to the point of invisibility. Nevertheless, he has been in jail since April.

But Lula remains, by far, the most popular politician in the country because of his ability to relate to ordinary working people and because of the way so many Brazilians were lifted out of poverty by his social programs. The presidential elections will take place on October 7, with a runoff on October 28 if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. The Workers’ Party has continued to present him as their presidential candidate, with polls showing that he might win outright on October 7, obviating the need for a runoff.

It is clear that if Lula were elected, he would try to undo the damage to the social safety net that has been perpetrated by Temer and the right over the last couple of years. A Lula victory would be a win for workers and unions, for women, for the poor, for racial minorities, and for LGBTQ Brazilians. It would be a nightmare for the Brazilian ruling class and political right. This is why the left in Brazil sees the persecution of Lula as class warfare.

The PT and the allied Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B) are not yet ready to give up on Lula’s candidacy, at least not until the Supreme Court rules. But they do have a backup candidate: Vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, former Minister of Education under Lula, and Mayor of São Paulo from 2013 to 2017. His vice presidential candidate would be Manuela D’Avila, former congresswoman from the Communist Party of Brazil.

Brazil’s ex-President Lula in jail; Workers Party nominates him anyway

If Lula is out of the running, the most popular of the huge number of presidential candidates so far is right-winger Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party, with one poll showing him having 23 percent of preferences. Bolsonaro is a racist, sexist, and homophobic extremist who praises the days of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil with a heavy fist from 1964 to 1985, says he would prefer his son be dead than be gay, and calls for the police to use more violence. His election would be bad news for workers, women, the environment, and indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people. In the election polling, he has far outdistanced “establishment conservatives” who are discredited in the eyes of the Brazilian public because of the many corruption scandals.

Brazil’s President of the Superior Electoral Court Rosa Weber, center, listens to Luiz Fernando Pereira, defense lawyer for Brazil’s Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, during a the trial against the candidacy of the jailed former president, in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 31. | Eraldo Peres / AP

As of the end of August, the PT’s Haddad’s polling numbers were quite low, but his supporters are hoping that his status as Lula’s chosen candidate will bring them up to the point that he at least will be in the runoff on October 28.

There are other left-of-center candidates, including Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labor Party, a former member of Lula’s cabinet, and Landless People’s Movement leader Guilherme Boulos, of the Socialism and Liberty Party. These would likely support Haddad in a runoff. Then there are more centrist candidates, like environmentalist Marina Silva. If Lula eventually is completely out of the race, the name of the game will be to get Haddad into the runoff, probably against Bolsonaro, and bid for the support of voters who cast their votes for these other center and left candidates in the runoff.

And if Haddad gets into the runoff and wins, it will be a huge breakthrough, not only because it will mean a return to Lula’s and Rousseff’s policies, but because the new president will have a Communist vice president who will not stab him in the back the way Temer did Rousseff.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.