A Brazilian appeals court will rule on Wednesday whether to overturn a corruption conviction against ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, effectively deciding if he can run in this year’s election.
Lula was sentenced in July to 9.5 years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in Brazil’s huge “Car Wash” graft scandal. All eyes are now turning to the court in Porto Alegre which said it will rule on his appeal on January 24.
That could decide whether Lula — hugely popular during his two-term presidency from 2001-2010 — can take part in the October 2018 presidential elections, in which he is currently the frontrunner.
The Workers’ Party (PT) he founded has organized hundreds of buses to transport supporters to Porto Alegre and has also scheduled events in Sao Paolo, where the 72-year-old will await the verdict.
Right-wing groups will hold demonstrations against Lula, whose appeal is only one of nine legal cases against him, the majority for corruption.
With tension around the case rising, and the stakes so high, Porto Alegre’s mayor has called on the army to provide extra security in the city, alarmed at the recent rhetoric of PT chairman Gleisi Hoffmann.
“To stop Lula they’re going to have to stop a lot of people, but, more than that, they’re going to have to kill people,” Hoffmann, a senator, warned in an interview last week.
Magistrates’ groups have also expressed concern at threats proliferating on social media against the three judges of Federal Regional Court No. 4, who are tasked with delivering the verdict.
Darling of the left
Lula was Brazil’s first democratically elected leftist president and is credited with helping lift 30 million Brazilians out of poverty.
He was hugely popular during his 2003-2010 two-term presidency, but his reputation was damaged by steep economic decline under his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff — who was impeached in 2016 for breaking budget rules.
Rousseff told AFP in an interview last week that any government that emerged from the 2018 elections “will not be able to govern the country” if Lula is banned from contesting the vote.
A court convicted Lula in connection with Brazil’s “Car Wash” graft probe, after what began as a money laundering investigation led investigators to a web of corruption involving much of the country’s political and economic elite.
The former union leader says he is the victim of political persecution.
“The notion of a coup d’etat has become more sophisticated, tanks and soldiers are no longer needed, it’s enough to tell lies that the media reproduces as truth, lies that have anesthetized the population,” Lula told a meeting of supporters last week in Rio de Janeiro.
Slim chance of success
The chances of Lula emerging unscathed in Wednesday’s ruling are slim, however.
Among the hundreds of appeals so far, the vast majority were increased or confirmed and only a score watered down — sometimes by only a few months — or cancelled.
The court “will probably uphold the conviction,” said Eurasia analyst Silvio Cascione in a note.
But even a unanimous ruling by the three judges “would not close the door on new appeals,” he added.
“Uncertainty will run high over the next months, probably until the early stages of the electoral campaign in August. Even if there is a unanimous 3-0 conviction against him, Lula will retain some options to keep his presidential dream alive.”
The court is also giving its ruling on six others involved in the case.
One of the original defendants was Lula’s wife, Marisa Leticia, who died in February last year.
At her funeral, Lula promised to fight so that his accusers “can someday have the humility to ask for forgiveness” for what he described as the “dirty tricks” used against her in the case.
Whatever the verdict, the court decision will constitute a new test for Brazilian democracy.
“If Lula can’t run, the election is very uncertain and we would have five or six candidates with the possibility of reaching the second round, which would make the 2018 elections the most unpredictable since the restoration of democracy (in 1985),” political scientist Mauricio Santoro of the Rio de Janeiro State University told AFP.
In the most recent survey by Brazilian pollsters Datafolha, at the beginning of December, Lula had 34 percent of voter intentions, followed by the right-wing deputy Jair Bolsonaro, with 17 percent.