Lula’s Innocence Declared in Court Opens Door for Next Year’s Run for Presidency

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge on Monday annulled the criminal convictions against former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a move that could allow the popular politician to run in next year’s presidential election.

The decision roiled financial markets and scrambled forecasts for the 2022 race, with many investors betting it would polarize voters between President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, and Lula, his greatest opponent on the left.

In a surprise decision, Justice Edson Fachin said a court in the southern city of Curitiba had lacked the authority to try Lula on corruption charges and that he must be retried in federal courts in the capital Brasília.

Bolsonaro, speaking to reporters in Brasília, said he hoped the decision is overturned when it is reviewed by the full Supreme Court. He added that he did not believe Brazilians wanted Lula to run next year.

The office of Brazil’s prosecutor general said it will appeal the decision.

Brazil’s real sank around 1.5% to a fresh four-month low after the news and the Bovespa stock index fell 4%. The real closed at 5.7779 per dollar, its weakest since May last year.

Financial analysts said the prospect of Lula candidacy would likely drive Bolsonaro to abandon economic reforms he ran on in 2018 and further embrace populist measures to shore up support.

“With Lula eligible, the chance of this current government going totally towards populism increases even more,” said Alfredo Menezes, managing partner at Armor Capital.

Lula, 75, governed Latin America’s biggest country and largest economy between 2003 and 2011, overseeing a commodities boom that turbocharged economic growth.

In 2018, he was convicted of taking bribes from engineering firms in return for public contracts and spent a year and a half behind bars, until the Supreme Court ruled he and others could appeal their cases without serving time.

Lula and his supporters blasted the anti-corruption task force that brought him down, called Operation Car Wash, as a politically driven effort. Leaked conversations in 2019 raised questions about whether investigators had cut corners to secure prosecutions. The task force was disbanded in February.

In a note, Lula’s legal team said the decision on Monday was recognition that the former president was innocent.

His conviction had prevented him from running for another presidential term in 2018.

The charismatic former union leader is a polarizing figure but still beloved by much of Brazil’s working class for bringing millions out of poverty through generous social welfare programs.

Lula is the only one of 10 potential 2022 candidates who outperformed the president in a survey by polling company Ipec, published in newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo last week.

It found that 50% of the 2,002 people it interviewed “would certainly” or “could” vote for Lula, compared with 38% for Bolsonaro. Some 44% of respondents said they would never vote for Lula, while 56% would never vote for Bolsonaro, the poll found.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has delayed a press conference scheduled for Tuesday to Wednesday, his press office said, citing a Supreme Court justice’s decision to analyze an appeal that a judge who helped convict Lula of corruption was biased.

The leftist leader’s party said it was too early to celebrate as there were more legal steps ahead, according to the Brazilian news outlet Folha.

The 75-year-old politician, best known simply as Lula, was released in 2019 after appealing multiple convictions. He was not able to run for office with his criminal record.

What were the charges against Lula?

Lula was charged with corruption and money laundering.

In 2014, a team of investigators, dubbed Operation Car Wash, investigated prominent politicians suspected of corruption,and their findings brought down Lula.

He was convicted in 2017 for bribery after accepting a seaside apartment from a construction company in exchange for lucrative government contracts. A year later, another court found him guilty of corruption.

The former president has repeatedly denied the corruption allegations, accusing prosecutors of preventing him from returning to office.

Who is Lula?

Lula is the co-founder of Brazil’s leftist Worker’s Party (PT). During his presidency, Lula’s policies lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty through generous social programs.

He has remained a popular figure on the left, even while in prison.

In 2018, the presidential election’s initial polls showed Lula to have around 39% of voter support, while Bolsonaro had 19%.

Lula’s supporters believe the convictions against the leftist leader paved the way for Bolsonaro’s win.

The charismatic former union leader is a polarizing figure but still beloved by much of Brazil’s working class for bringing millions out of poverty through generous social welfare programs.

Lula is the only one of ten potential 2022 candidates who outperformed president Bolsonaro in a survey by polling company Ipec, published in newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo last week.

It found that 50% of the 2,002 people it interviewed “would certainly” or “could” vote for Lula, compared with 38% for Bolsonaro. Some 44% of respondents said they would never vote for Lula, while 56% would never vote for Bolsonaro, the poll found.

fb/dj, AP, Reuters

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