Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told Reuters on Wednesday that his recent conviction for corruption might mean that his Workers Party will have to field a candidate other than him in next year’s election.
In an interview during a marathon bus tour through Brazil’s impoverished northeastern states, Lula said the Brazilian government should spend its way out of its worst recession on record and even use some of its international reserves instead of cutting government programs that hurt the poor.
Lula’s 2003-11 government lifted millions from poverty and polls show he is still one of Brazil’s most popular politicians. However, his political future hangs in the balance after he was convicted last month of receiving bribes from a construction firm in return for help winning government contracts.
If that conviction is upheld on appeal, Lula will likely be barred from running and could be imprisoned.
“I know my enemies want to block any possibility of me being a candidate and I am fighting that,” Lula, 71, told Reuters in a hotel room where he complained that his arms hurt from physically embracing thousands of supporters who have turned out at every stop of his tour.
“But nobody is irreplaceable,” he added. “If there is any problem, the Workers Party has to be able to launch another candidate.”
A possible stand-in is the former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, who gained national prominence as education minister under Lula and extended university access to poorer Brazilians.
Brazil’s real currency extended gains on the news that Lula was contemplating his own replacement, firming more than 1.2 percent to its strongest in more than two weeks. Traders said the prospect of a 2018 race without Lula reinforced bets on Brazil sticking to fiscal austerity and pursuing structural reforms.
Meanwhile in Brasília, Finance minister Henrique Meirelles said that a presidential candidate running on a reformist platform, who promises to maintain the current government’s efforts to control expenses and put public spending in order, will have a good chance in the next election.
“If you ask me who is going to win, I believe that a reformist message should win”, he said in an interview with daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
“The populist position has been sufficiently tested and the result was negative. The population has been alerted to this.”
A member of the PSD, one of the parties that supports President Michel Temer in Congress, Meirelles has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the governing block for the presidential elections of 2018, but he changes the subject when questioned about the idea.
“I am focused on my work, which is to carry out the reforms and ensure the growth of the country for the next few years”, he says. “I’m not worried about my future”.
In Meirelles’ opinion, a platform in favor of reform and austerity will have a good chance in the presidential election if it is associated with a recovery of the economy, which seems to be slowly emerging from the deep recession it has been in for the last three years.