Half of Brazilians want former President Lula da Silva to win next year’s election and return to the office he occupied between 2003 and 2010. The other half wants him in prison for a corruption conviction.
Those dueling sentiments now underscore an important question as campaigns begin gearing up ahead of the 2018 election: Will Lula da Silva, who is appealing the conviction, be allowed to run?
“Whether Lula runs or not makes all the difference in the next election,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in São Paulo. “Even if he is jailed he won’t be out of the race, as whoever he supports could be a competitive candidate.”
With a lead in all polls, Lula is campaigning across Brazil while he appeals the guilty verdict. If it’s upheld, he could go to jail and be barred from running. If it’s overturned, Lula is facing several other trials that could interfere with his campaign.
Despite the setbacks, Lula has seen his approval rating rise since the conviction, cementing the reality that he will likely be a force in the election one way or the other.
The chairman of a group of three magistrates has said that he expects the court to rule on da Silva’s appeal before next August. The election is in October.
Lula was convicted in July by Judge Sergio Moro as part of a sprawling investigation into kickbacks by construction companies and public officials. He was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in jail and barred from holding public office for seven.
But while candidates figure out how to position themselves depending on Lula’s legal fate, there are also questions about whether the former president’s own Workers’ Party has a Plan B.
“Lula’s candidacy is irreversible,” Workers’ Party chairwoman Gleisi Hoffmann said. But Ciro Gomes, a former Cabinet minister in Lula’s government and a presidential hopeful himself, disagrees.
“The Workers’ Party will have a candidate, but it won’t be Lula,” Gomes said recently at a conference in São Paulo. The election is October 7, 2018, with a likely runoff three weeks later if none of the candidates obtain more than 50 percent of the vote.
A survey by polling firm DataFolha says Lula has 30% support for the first election round, compared to 20% for his closest rival, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who speaks glowingly about the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship.
The poll also indicates Lula would beat every adversary in a runoff, except for a tie with Moro, the judge who convicted him, but who has repeatedly said he will not run despite being hailed by many Brazilians as a hero.
Meanwhile, 54% of Brazilians surveyed said they want the former president in jail.
The poll was conducted September 27-28 after Lula’s conviction in the “Car Wash” probe. DataFolha interviewed 2,772 people and said the poll had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
Overall, the poll said Lula has become more popular since he was found guilty. In July, DataFolha found that he was rejected by 46% of voters and would tie with former Cabinet minister Marina Silva in a runoff, compared to 42% of voters in October who said they would not back the ex-president.
Fernando Castelo Branco, law professor at São Paulo’s PUC University, said Lula’s candidacy will be revoked if the conviction is upheld before official campaigning begins in August.
“If he has already registered his candidacy, the court could still uphold the conviction or add to his penalties and in that case his candidacy could be annulled,” Branco said.