Brazil: Lula has convictions quashed, setting up election clash with Bolsonaro

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could be set for a sensational comeback attempt after a supreme court judge annulled a series of criminal convictions against the leftist icon and restored his political rights.

The ruling, which analysts called a political bombshell, means Lula is almost certain to challenge Brazil’s incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, in the 2022 presidential election.

“The election starts today … It’s virtually impossible Lula won’t be a candidate,” said Thomas Traumann, a Rio de Janeiro-based political observer. “In American terms, it’s going to be like Sanders versus Trump.”

The Valor Econômico, Brazil’s leading financial newspaper, declared: “Lula is back in the game.”

Lula was president of Latin America’s largest economy for two terms, between 2003 and 2011, and oversaw a historic period of commodity-fuelled growth and poverty reduction. The Workers’ party (PT) politician, who is now 75, had hoped to seek a third term in 2018 but was sidelined after being jailed on disputed corruption charges.

Lula was released from prison in November 2019 after 580 days behind bars but remained unable to seek election after being stripped of his political rights.

Speaking to the Guardian last April, the former shoeshine boy played down speculation he would challenge Bolsonaro in 2022 but accused the far-right former army captain of leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse” with his “grotesque” and “reckless” response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can be certain the left will be governing Brazil again after 2022,” Lula claimed. “We will vote for someone who is committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon … who respects blacks and the indigenous. We’re going to elect someone who is committed to the poor of this country.”

Traumann said Monday’s ruling was an unmistakable turning point and potentially positive for those who wanted to see the back of Bolsonaro, under whose highly controversial watch more than 265,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to Covid-19. “If you are absolutely opposed to Bolsonaro, this is good news – because you have a candidate who is undeniably strong, popular and who can defeat Bolsonaro.

“The problem is that there is a pretty reasonable number of people who don’t want either of them [as president] – and if these people don’t get together and come up with a [third] candidate now, there will be no room for them,” Traumann added. “If the other candidates don’t decide to run now, by the time we get to next year things will be so polarised that there will be no room for a third candidate.”

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