Lula, a former president of Brazil, could run again in 2022
BRAZILIAN JUSTICE works in mysterious ways. The latest twist came on March 8th when Edson Fachin, a Supreme Court judge, annulled two corruption convictions against ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, clearing the way for him to run in the elections in 2022. Mr Fachin belongs to a faction of the Supreme Court that tends to rule in favour of the anti-corruption task force known as Lava Jato (Car Wash). This makes his ruling surprising.
Mr Fachin accepted a years-old argument from Lula’s lawyers that the cases, which concern properties he allegedly received from construction companies, were filed in the wrong jurisdiction; if the full court confirms this decision, they will start again elsewhere. But another motion before the court seeks permanently to quash both the convictions and the evidence against Lula, on the grounds that Sérgio Moro, the judge who oversaw the probe, was biased. Leaked messages reveal that he coached prosecutors; he later became justice minister for Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s populist president.
Some suspect that Mr Fachin was trying to shield the rest of Lava Jato by sparing its most controversial target. But the day after his ruling, a chamber of the court began debating the case concerning Mr Moro. A decision in Lula’s favour could be used to annul the sentences of dozens of politicians and businessmen implicated in Lava Jato. After the chamber failed to reach a ruling, the judge postponed his verdict. But it is unlikely that Lula will be convicted again, thinks Felipe Recondo, a founder of Jota, a website that focuses on Brazil’s judiciary. A former Lava Jato prosecutor even suggested that the statute of limitations has passed for some of his alleged crimes.
At first glance, Lula’s eligibility is a boost for Mr Bolsonaro. In 2018, the former president launched a quixotic presidential campaign despite being barred from the ballot, hoping to convince past voters of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) to support Fernando Haddad, who had replaced him as the party’s candidate a month before the election. Instead, anger about corruption helped elect Mr Bolsonaro, who ran on an anti-establishment platform.
Brazil has changed since then. Mr Bolsonaro can no longer paint himself as an outsider. His attempt to shield his eldest son, Flávio, a senator, from a money-laundering investigation has led to deals with the very parties he once denounced. Mr Moro resigned last year, accusing the president of obstructing justice; Mr Bolsonaro’s hand-picked attorney-general disbanded the Lava Jato task-force in February.
The president has been criticised for treating covid-19 with apathy and quackery. The pandemic has killed more than 265,000 Brazilians. Hefty handouts to the poor in 2020 shored up his support, but after they stopped and a new wave of covid-19 cases filled hospitals, his approval rating fell from 41% to 33%, one pollster finds. And whereas the PT was renowned for vaccination campaigns, Mr Bolsonaro rejects them. After a record 1,910 patients died on March 3rd he told people to stop whining. In 2018, “he was a sniper, firing at everyone,” says Cláudio Couto, a political scientist. “This time he is going to be a target.”
Brazil remains polarised, but antibolsonarismo may have surpassed antipetismo (opposition to the PT). In a recent poll, 50% of Brazilians said they could vote for Lula; 44% said they never would. Only 38% said they could vote for Mr Bolsonaro; a whopping 56% refuse to. Such high rejection rates have intensified calls for a frente ampla (“broad front”) to coalesce around a centrist candidate. The PT, for its part, has moved further left in recent years, but Lula could move the party back towards the centre, as he did during his first term.
Much as Mr Bolsonaro would like to spend his way to re-election, his government lacks the money. Its failure to pass economic reforms to curb the growth of public debt has fuelled rising inflation. “Every day is high prices day in Bolsonaro’s Brazil!” proclaims a video that went viral. But a lot can change in the 570 days until voters cast their ballots.